Stage 4 breast cancer is terminal. There’s no Stage 5, so those diagnosed can’t take advantage of most of the money raised in the name of breast cancer, as it’s used for research and treatment for stages 1 to 3. These women (and their families) spend the precious little time they have, and most of their money, getting through their days and planning what their families will look like after they’re gone.
LESLIE’S WEEK, based in Annapolis, is helping these families make new memories to carry them through the tough times by giving them a vacation away from cancer. Sandra Gunn, president and founder, started the organization in 2011 after a family friend, Leslie Twohig, succumbed quickly to Stage 4 triple negative inflammatory breast cancer. Watching how the disease impacted Leslie and her family, and after experiencing breast cancer herself (Sandra is a two-time survivor.), Sandra and her husband treated a Stage 4 family to a week at their cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, covering their housing, food, and living expenses.
Knowing they wanted to help more than one family, they asked others in their resort community to donate their cabins for the same week. Then, when they realized they’d be out of space again quickly, Sandra contacted the DreamMore Resort, part of Dollywood. With their help, the program expanded dramatically.
“They treat our women like queens,” she says, “and bend over backwards for our families,” providing LESLIE’S WEEK with discounted rooms. They also give the families a discount on food, and they donate admission to the Dollywood Theme Park and Splash Country for the kids.
Through assistance from donors and volunteers, LESLIE’S WEEK holds additional events that week for the families, with some just for the fathers and children. CLUB4KIDS and HANDS4GIVERS are two of those programs.
CLUB4KIDS provides the children a release from their anxieties and fears through a program of spontaneous individual and group art experiences, giving LESLIE’S KIDS the opportunity to meet other children who are going through what they are each day. Each child then becomes eligible for post-secondary education financial assistance through a grant in their mother’s name. With HANDS4GIVERS, spouses talk with and learn from others in similar positions. Many continue the relationships they’ve made after they leave; some even return as volunteers.
Dr. Christopher Spittler, Annapolis plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist, is a HANDS4GIVERS moderator, a member of the LESLIE’S WEEK Honoree Selection Committee, and a member of the LESLIE’S WEEK Board of Directors. “Women with Stage 4 breast cancer,” he explains, “fall through the cracks. LESLIE’S WEEK is so much more than a family trip to Tennessee. There, they get a chance to be a normal family experiencing normal, fun things. The effects are immense.”
In 2018, LESLIE’S WEEK sent 31 families to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This year, they hope to send 40, which will cost approximately $100,000. To help this underserved, deserving population and offset some of the costs, you can donate, volunteer, attend their BRUNCH4STAGE4 on April 7 at Paca House in Annapolis from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM, or nominate a woman for this year’s vacation from cancer, August 4-9, 2019. Nominations close April 1, 2019.
When Sandra was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, she participated in an educational seminar at the Anne Arundel Medical Center. Not one to avoid tough conversations, she asked those in the room about their greatest fears. They all responded the same way, asking “who will take care of and love our children like we do after we’re gone?” LESLIE’S WEEK helps ensure these children will be cared for after their moms pass, beginning with the chance to Make Memories that Outlast Cancer.