Survivors helping others survive
By Georgia CORE, Nov 2, 2020
Bobbie, Crystal and Tiah have a lot in common. Not only are they cancer survivors, they are cancer warriors who turned their own personal survivorship journeys into missions to support other survivors through nonprofit organizations they created here in Georgia.
For Bobbie Menneg, it’s all about the strong relationships and even friendships she has made and fostered through her nonprofit, Beyond the Ribbon. “I realized with my own experience that the journey is not over once you finish your treatment; it just begins.”
Being a cancer survivor herself, Bobbie says she works really hard on the relationship piece. But what she didn’t anticipate is that her motivation to help others would reciprocate into other survivors doing the same. “Yes, it’s important to help with the very real needs such as living expenses,” she explains. “And we’re happy to do that; but because we develop deep relationships with the patients, what we provide is much more personal, and it’s paid forward, like a circle of life.”
Cancer has a huge impact on you throughout your life. As a community, we’re missing that piece. That’s become my mantra. I don’t want our work to ever not be personal.”
Crystal Champion had already founded Champions Can! Foundation for Cancer Wellness when she was diagnosed with cancer. She initially formed the group because, as a physical therapist in cancer rehabilitation, she saw how devastating it can be for cancer patients when they are left at the end of their medical treatment. They often suffer loneliness and an incredible uncertainty on how to get their lives back. The Foundation supports patients and their caregivers by helping them to restore exercise, healthy eating, and self-esteem, among other things critical to well-being, and to pull all available resources for post-cancer care.
After two years of doing this work, Crystal then found herself in the patient’s seat, at age 38. “I value my knowledge as a healthcare professional, but now can truly see each situation from both sides of the table,” she says. “Suddenly my purpose had more meaning in that I had to follow my own advice!”
Crystal has compiled that advice into a book, The Elements of Cancer Survivorship (available on Amazon Kindle). But she also has used her own experience to think through how patients are considered for her foundation’s services. Her experience led her to not include an income requirement, for example. “The whole experience is already stressful enough.”
Tiah Tomlin, also, started her nonprofit work in cancer before being diagnosed herself. While her organization initially helped different causes, the first project they took on was for prostate cancer. Only a month after beginning to work with the cancer community, Tiah became a member of that community, and it was then when she noticed something missing. Wanting to avoid burdening her family who had a lot of stress on them already, Tiah says she needed to talk to people who understood. “I had so many questions,” she explains. “I went to a support group, but no one looked like me. There were no other Black women under 40.”
‘Why aren’t we showing up?’ she asked herself. Through seeking the answer, she went from ‘existing’ to living, and started the discovery toward her true purpose. After she got to know other cancer patients and built relationships with them, like Bobbie, she saw the need for more than wrap-around services, but also for true connection. She and her business partner then launched My Style Matters which includes a program that teaches kids about etiquette to support families dealing with cancer and one that supports the cancer patients themselves, in their fight.
“Unfortunately, my experience with a navigator wasn’t the best,” Tiah reflects. “No one asked me, ‘what do you need?’ The focus was always on the cancer, not the patient. By focusing on the patients, we have created a true sisterhood of more than 500 women.”
While the majority of the patients supported by Tiah’s group are surviving breast cancer, she works to serve people of diverse ethnicities and cancer types. “The disparities piece is another place where my heart is,” she says. “Georgia Black women are 45 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than our white women, for instance. We work to close the gap so that Black men and women can get the care they need. We have to break down barriers, and building relationships in order to build trust is how we can do that.”
Georgia CORE is extremely grateful to these three survivorship warriors because they also serve on Georgia CORE’s Survivors Advocacy Council. Learn more about Bobbie’s, Crystal’s and Tiah’s work, respectively, at their websites, www.BeyondtheRibbonInc.org, www.ChampionsCanFoundation.org, and www.MyStyleSatters.org.