Team Pink helps cancer patients with a memorable trip
This September, twelve families impacted by breast cancer will come to Oak Island thanks to Little Pink Houses of Hope, a national nonprofit headquartered in Burlington, North Carolina, and its locally-based Team Pink, led by volunteers MARIANNE LAWRUK, NANCY NEWCOM, and CONNIE KELLY, who have been preparing for the families to arrive for the past several months.
Little Pink Houses of Hope sponsors weeklong, all-expense-paid vacation retreats for breast cancer patients in the midst of treatment and their families. Housing, activities, meals, and all supplies are provided free of charge so that families can focus on spending quality time together.
JEANINE PATTEN-COBLE, an eleven-year breast cancer survivor, started Little Pink after noticing the gap in services for families of survivors. Since 2009, retreats have been held at locations across the country including the North Carolina beach towns of Emerald Isle, Carolina Beach, Topsail Island, Hatteras Island, and Oak Island.
“It is rewarding to meet the families and give them the opportunity to relax and enjoy activities, some of which they have never done before,” says Lawruk. For the retired food quality and food safety director from The Hershey Company in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Little Pink has special meaning. “When my sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer, her daughter got involved with Little Pink. After retiring and moving to this area, Little Pink seemed like a perfect fit for me,” Lawruk says. She has been involved for six years.
Before moving to St. James, Kelly, a retired training and development consultant who specialized in interpersonal communication and leadership development, was a long-time United Way and Relay for Life volunteer. This is her second year on Team Pink.
“A few months after one of my closest friends died of breast cancer, Marianne asked if I’d be interested in helping organize the retreat on Oak Island. I immediately thought of my friend. She would have loved a chance to spend precious time with her family. Since I couldn’t do it for her, I could do this in her honor,” recalled Kelly.
Newcom has also returned to Team Pink for her second year. “Both my parents were devoted volunteers all their lives. I always wanted to follow in their footsteps,” she says.
Newcom says Little Pink has been a rewarding experience with many memorable moments. “There are so many!” she says. “But I think the most memorable was watching participants step out of their comfort zone and try to stand up paddle boarding and kayaking for the first time.”
Originally from Ohio, Newcom retired to St. James after a thirty-five-year career in the insurance industry. She has volunteered for Meals on Wheels and the American Cancer Society. “I lost a friend to breast cancer a couple of years ago, so Little Pink is most meaningful to me.”
Team Pink is backed by many additional volunteers and an outpouring of community support from businesses, churches, and private donors. Team Pink has rounded up over 400 meals and six days of activities including a day on the beach, water sports, date night for the survivors and guests, kids activities, and field trips. Each family receives gift bags filled with beach gear and local gifts plus standard housekeeping supplies.
“There is a real groundswell of interest from the community,” says Kelly.
At the final farewell dinner, the families will talk about their experience. There will be tears and cheers and bittersweet goodbyes among newfound friends facing common health challenges.
“The closing dinner is special for the families who have bonded in such a short time. It’s satisfying to see it all come together through the generosity of so many people,” added Newcom.
“Little Pink is a gift to the survivors. It is a gift of time to get away and be with those who are most important to them,” Kelly says.
For Lawruk, her years with Little Pink can be summed up very simply. “Rewarding. Humbling. And fulfilling.”
Learn more about Little Pink Houses of Hope at littlepink.org.
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