Statistics on rising cancer survivorship offer exciting promise, with more than 15.5 million survivors in the U.S. – a number expected to grow to 20.3 million by 2026. However, we now know that surviving cancer changes a person’s psychological mindset, raising the question of how we can provide emotional and psychological healing as part of cancer care.
One woman’s experience is addressing this head-on.
In 2009, at age 30, Terri Wingham was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. After 15 months of treatment, Terri found herself unable to adjust back into or feel fulfilled by her former life as a corporate headhunter. In this grieving for the person she once was and in search of feeling inspiration again, Terri impulsively decided to register for a volunteer trip to Africa. The experience was transformational and reminded of her of how much she still could give to the world.
She knew she had to help others find this feeling.
A Fresh Chapter is born
By this time, Terri had already founded her blog and online community for people experiencing cancer, A Fresh Chapter. Debating the idea for months, Terri decided it was time to turn her dream into reality and officially incorporated A Fresh Chapter in 2011. The organization offers individuals affected by cancer the chance to rediscover their passion, deal with the emotional challenges that accompany their cancer journey, connect with other individuals on this same journey, and start their own “fresh chapter.”
The organization facilitates life-changing volunteer trips for people impacted by cancer where participants connect to a supportive community, see that struggle is universal, and redefine their lives. It fills a niche in the oncology community that is not otherwise being served – one primarily focused on life after cancer. Under Terri’s expert tutelage, AFC participants and volunteers become the tangible catalysts for post-traumatic growth.
To build this organization, Terri spent six months in 2012 volunteering on five continents to learn how international voluntourism projects worked. She now leads A Fresh Chapter international two-week service trips to India, Costa Rica, South Africa, Peru, and soon Kenya, as well as domestic trips for those unable to travel internationally.
Helping survivors go deeper and turn the page
In addition to meaningful volunteer activities, A Fresh Chapter helps participants understand what they’re holding onto or struggling with (anger, fear of recurrence, fear of dying, isolation) and offers a safe space to talk in a setting outside of a traditional hospital or support group model. The AFC staff conducts perspective-shifting and psycho-social support activities to help people go deeper and unpack their cancer story and figure out their “emotional baggage.” What are they carrying around with them? And what can they leave behind? They might not be able to go back to who they were before, but now they can turn the page and start a fresh chapter in their lives. An intense two weeks of outward volunteering and internal reflection soon replaces participants’ feelings of despair, grief, stress, and fear with overwhelmingly positive emotions of gratitude, faith, love, acceptance.
Upon returning home, nearly all AFC participants are activated in their “Ripple Impact Action Plans” devised on the trip. These are usually commitments in their personal lives to continue volunteering or partake in health advocacy and outreach work in their own communities. A prime example is one alumnus who went on to develop his own nonprofit dedicated to health outreach in the African American community.
Many participants are so moved by the AFC programming and stricken by Terri’s unwavering dedication that they have joined the nonprofit’s large network of skilled volunteers—bringing their own personality, skills, and experiences to their work and inspiring a new generation of individuals affected by cancer. These ambassadors play a pivotal role in empowering and expanding their own circles, as well as growing A Fresh Chapter.
Time to scale
Ever the entrepreneur, Terri has used skills from her past life in headhunting to connect with pharmaceutical companies, such as Eli Lilly and Company, to ensure adequate resources for programming and to expand operations. Now, in its seventh year with nearly 300 “alumni”, Terri continues to grow AFC with plans to launch an online model to scale operations and reach the growing population of cancer survivors.
This new 12-week online program allows participants to connect to an online cohort and access the tools and resources needed to partake in virtual perspective-shifting activities from home.
Simultaneously, this September marks A Fresh Chapter’s first Global Emerging Leaders Program in Kenya, bringing together six U.S. cancer advocates, six Kenyan cancer advocates, and six employees from corporate partner Lilly. The 18 participants will work to customize A Fresh Chapter’s existing toolkit to apply to a different culture that might not have access to those enjoyed in the U.S. Terri envisions A Fresh Chapter building on earlier successes and re-framing the established materials and system into something more usable for many more people affected by cancer across the globe.
A Fresh Chapter flourishes and will continue to flourish because of many reasons that Terri laid out from the beginning: corporate partnerships, ambassadors, expanding to online models, re-framing materials to new cultures, and more. As an alumnus of the program, I am a firm believer in the need for this kind of cancer care and the power of an astute and compassionate leader like Terri.
Wanda Lucas is an aspiring writer/blogger living in Washington, DC. She is a member of the Peru Odyssey 2016 tribe and honored to serve as the Melissa Carroll Legacy Fund Ambassador for A Fresh Chapter.