Mercury News, Peninsula Section

At Party, Cancer Patients Give Thanks

 

By Joe Rodriguez

Mercury News, The Peninsula

Monday, December 22, 2008

 

Group Helps Family Cope with Disease


 

When cancer strikes one member of a family, what seems like an intensely personal catastrophe can suddenly bring down the entire household.


But Sunday, for 200 men, women and children who know the disease's terrible toll all too well, a holiday party hosted by a unique program for patients and their families offered a chance to give thanks, both for a happier ending and for the help they received in getting there.


"It's like they don't care about the cost," said Chris Lancelotti, 38. "They were going to help us no matter what."


He meant a small but bighearted organization called Families Can. Since 1999, the nonprofit has helped cancer-stricken families in Santa Clara County in ways big and small, from covering mortgage payments to paying for baby-sitters and more. The party at the plush Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club was more :than just an annual event. It was a way to connect with other cancer survivors.


Lancelotti was a typical client. After learning last year that he had testicular cancer, the paramedic and father of three was asked at Stanford Medical Center if he wanted to talk with a social worker.


"I had never thought I would be in the position to need social help," he said. "But I signed the form, anyway. Thank God I did."


Over the next several months, Families Can covered three mortgage payments, about $2,000 in credit card debt, and groceries for three months. Lancelotti said the assistance helped save his marriage.


"I had no idea how much radiation and other treatment would leave me so tired and in pain," he said. "My wife has been raising the children on her own for the past year."
The party was an elegant, low-key affair. Young kids squealing in line to see Santa made the most noise. If you browsed by, it would have looked like just another holiday party, except for the telltale signs of chemotherapy, the men with fuzzy scalps and the women wearing bandannas.


The host and founder of Families Can, Jackie Whittier, said only a few words of welcome and mostly mingled with the people she's helped.
About 11 years ago, she was pregnant when liver cancer struck her husband, Bruce Kubicka. Sitting for hours in hospital waiting rooms, she learned from other spouses how difficult cancer had made family life, especially in money matters.


Later, when her father, Ron Whittier, a retired Intel executive, asked his adult children to come up with ideas for a foundation he was starting, she remembered what she had learned. And so Families Can was born.


"I came up with the idea because when my husband got cancer I had a baby in my tummy," she said.  


“Money isn't the only help,” said Victoria Alvarez, who attended the party with her husband, Jesus Martinez, and their five children. FamiliesCan enrolled her kids in a camp designed to help children understand and cope with a parent's cancer.


"For a long time I couldn't say the 'C' word to them," Alvarez, 36, said. "Well, they got to learn in that program what Mommy has, that it's OK to hug Mommy with that funny thing on her head when she comes back from the hospital."


Beatriz Bravo, a medical social worker at Stanford Medical Center, had referred several of the partygoers to the organization for help.

 

"When a loved one in the family is hit by cancer, it puts a major stress on the whole family," she said. "As I've said, nobody deals with cancer alone."