By John Burton
EATONTOWN – The support organization Ilene Winters worked to establish seven years ago, which abruptly closed last month, will hopefully return to helping those battling cancer.
Winters is working to re-establish the Cancer Support Community North Jersey Shore and has announced the group’s third annual National Cancer Survivors Day Walk on Sunday, June 1, at Middletown’s Thompson Park, as a fundraiser to help reopen the Eatontown facility’s door.
Winters stepped back from running the organization in 2012 but, when she was alerted in early April that the facility would close later in the month, she said, “We have to keep this resource for the community.” She then began working to reopen the facility and see it continue.
The Cancer Support Community, which had operated out of 613 Hope Road, was one of 50 affiliates of the National Cancer Support Community, a Washington, D.C.-based organization.
The community provides patients with all forms of cancer and their loved ones with a wide array of free, nonmedical programs intended to help them address this difficult period. The organization offers such services as cancer education programs; general and disease-specific support groups; nutrition and healthy cooking classes; classes in yoga and Qigong (a Chinese exercise that is believed to promote wellness); assistance for families to manage their finances; and relaxation and mediation classes, according to Winters.
“People have come to see us as a resource, and there isn’t anything else like it in the area,” she said.
The services are intended to complement treatments patients are receiving, educating patients and loved ones about the importance of healthy living as they face these challenges, she said.
Winters, a Long Branch resident who most recently has been working with Sea Bright Rising, formed in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, began thinking in 2005 of opening the local chapter of the organization, in honor of her mother, Cissie Winters, who died in 2004 from ovarian cancer.
That required Winters and others involved initially to raise roughly $400,000 to get the chapter up and running.
Since opening its doors on May 15, 2007, the 3,600-square-foot facility and its services have tended the needs of approximately 5,000 individuals, Winters said.
“The local oncology community has come to rely on it,” with doctors regularly offering the facility’s brochures to those newly diagnosed with cancer, she said.
Winters, who had worked on Wall Street, was the North Jersey facility’s executive director until 2012, when she decided she “really wanted somebody with extensive nonprofit experience to take over and take the organization further than I could have.” She relinquished the responsibility to the board of directors and said she did not know what happen after she left the organization.
Last month, Barry Goldsmith, who was president of the center’s former board, said the facility ran into some financial difficulties.
An email sent to Goldsmith last week, asking him to talk about the situation, was not answered.
Winters doesn’t want to dwell on past difficulties. Instead, she said, she is concentrating on resurrecting the organization and raising the necessary funding for it.
The national organization has offered its support to Winters and her efforts to reopen the North Jersey Shore unit.
“We’ve been having advisory conversations, just like we would with any affiliate under development,” said Linda House, executive vice president of external affairs for the Cancer Support Community in Washington, D.C.
Winters estimates she needs $200,000 by August to open the doors again and another $150,000 by the end of the year to keep it moving forward. “That will give us a nice cushion to start with,” she said.
The reopening of the facility is contingent on her raising the necessary funds. If she is successful, Winters said, she will remain more active and serve on the organization’s board. “This is something that is making a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
That is certainly the case for Ellen Cahill, who participated in programs there for a couple of years.
Cahill of Monmouth Beach was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2010 and had surgery the following month. “It got me through the surgery,” she said.
Cahill, who works as a fulltime paramedic, found that when she was diagnosed and told people she had cancer, they often remarked about her strength dealing with the disease. “That was the last thing I felt like,” she said.
The facility, where she participated in support groups and other programs, “was the place I could go and walk in and not have to be strong.
“That was the place I could take my scarf off, my hat off and sit there with my bald head and feel totally comfortable,” Cahill said.
Registration for the June 1 walk at Thompson Park costs $35 for adults 17 and older; $10 for children ages 12 to 17; and free for children younger than 12.
Additional information and registration are available by visiting https://www.firstgiving.com/cscjerseyshore/3rd-annual-cancer-survivors-day-walk.