Just One More Test

Just One More Test

Pictured above: Schmitt Family

“Just one more test.”

It was June 24th, 2015, and Emily Karcher Schmitt saw her doctor for what was supposed to be a routine appointment. Emily was being monitored for another non-cancer-related health issue, a benign lump in her breast, and was having some testing done.

“So much of my story is divine intervention. It was the monitoring of that benign lump that led to the discovery of my cancer. Decisions were made to not remove that lump. We discussed removing it. For some reason, we decided not to.”

And if it were not for that decision, to NOT remove that benign fatty lump, Emily’s cancer might not have been discovered until it was too late.

On that June date, Emily’s doctor, after performing all the routine tests, for reasons even she does not understand, still was not convinced. The scans and ultrasounds all looked normal, but something was not right. She suggested getting one more test, a high-resolution ultrasound.
“You are fine. All is good. Let’s do one more test, and you can go live your life…”

And there it was:
It was bad.
It was large.
And completely hidden.

“It looked like an octopus. No matter how many times I got a scan, no matter how many times I got an ultrasound, it didn’t matter. It was hiding.”

Everything went incredibly fast after that.

“Our choice was simple. In fact, there was no choice. To survive, you must begin this treatment immediately.”

At the time, Emily’s children were 2, 4, and 6 years old. She was about to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary and now, they were all about to go through cancer together. Emily and her husband not only had to deal with this life-threatening situation, but their three young children were about to see their mom in quite a different light. “We were very concerned about what to say to the kids. How would they deal with this? How would WE deal with this?”

Emily begins her treatment:
Breast cancer.
Double mastectomy.
Chemo.

“Fast forward; I am in a wig shop in Annapolis. This is where I would first hear about Wellness House. It was the program they had called, ‘Look Good, Feel Better,’ and I remember wanting so much to be that, and to be a part of that program.”

Emily had a close friend, Tara, whose mother had gone through cancer. Tara’s mother was also a Wellness House member. As the conversation shifted to their children, Emily fell back to how concerned she and her husband were about the kids, and how they were handling what she was going through.

Tara told Emily about the Wellness House of Annapolis, specifically their Paint Your Rainbow Summer Camp. Tara had just signed her kids up to participate in the camp to help them deal with their grandmother’s cancer diagnosis.

Emily thought about this opportunity after speaking to Tara and about sending her children to the summer camp. “I am the kind of person who isn’t the first to do anything. Even though this was all so new to me, I felt my kids could benefit from this.”

The response, and result of the Wellness House kids’ camp, was immediate for the entire family. “It took one day for us to realize what an amazing experience the Wellness House provides. My kids were, and still are, so excited to be a part of everything they have to offer. It continues to be a feeling of, ‘This is too good to be true. How on earth is this free? How can it be this all-encompassing good feeling, with no strings attached?’”

Programs like Paint Your Rainbow Summer Camp and Kidz Coping helped her children connect with other kids who were going through or had gone through exactly what they were going through. As the Schmitt family went through this process, it opened a brand-new world up to them, one of selflessness and giving. The Wellness House of Annapolis is an organization explicitly designed to help people like the Schmitt family – one that lets those dealing with a cancer diagnosis know that they are not alone in their struggle.

“Going through cancer, you realize there are these groups where you feel like YOU are the lucky ones. You don’t wish cancer on your worst enemy. As unlucky as you are to be going through the fear and trauma of the cancer experience, you wish everyone could have access to groups like this. The fact is that they are not just fun, encouraging, and backed by therapy, they’re also amazing.”

“Everyone talks of 2020 being the worst year, and it certainly was, but 2015 was our 2020. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and I felt my kids needed something like this. To be surrounded by other kids, to be supported by an organization like this. They made an immediate bond with the other kids in the program. I remember seeing the counselors giving my kids piggyback rides, and my response was to call my husband and tell him, ‘You will never believe this place. It was exactly what they needed.’”

Emily Karcher Schmitt is a Crofton-based photographer and owner of Picture the Good: Studio & Workshop. She is the proud mother of three kids, now 7, 9, and 11 years old respectively, and she has been married for 15 years and counting.

You Are Stronger Than You Think

You Are Stronger Than You Think

A cancer diagnosis is one of the most shocking things to hear and share. As an 11-year-old, I was not prepared to hear “Your dad has cancer.” Ten years later, as a 21-year-old, I still have not forgotten the feeling that I had after my mother shared the diagnosis.

My dad was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, which had invaded his spine’s bone marrow through multiple tumors. When my dad was first given his cancer diagnosis, he was told that if he lived, he would likely never walk again or do the things he loved, like golfing or boating. My parents tried to protect my brother and I from the scary reality that my dad was facing.

During the summer that my dad was diagnosed and treated, my brother and I spent the majority of time at the houses of friends and family, so my mom could be with my dad and protect us from seeing his battle with cancer. Telling people that he had cancer didn’t feel real, and I couldn’t accept the possibility of losing him to cancer.

The reality was that in the months following his diagnosis, my dad would go on to receive chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant. My brother and I didn’t see my dad much during these treatments and procedures, but we visited whenever we could. It was hard not having my dad home, and when he finally came home after he finished treatment and rehab, I was so excited. I created a giant poster for him and couldn’t stop hugging him once he got home. My dad coming home from treatment was a blessing, but it was just the start of his healing. The thing that is so scary about cancer is that there is the possibility that it can come back.

No two people have the same experience with cancer. Although cancer can do a lot of things, there are also a lot of things cancer can’t do. It can never take away love, someone’s determination, or spirit. Throughout the whole process, my dad never stopped fighting to beat cancer and he told us that our family and having more time with us is what kept him focused. My dad beat the odds by going into remission, walking again, and playing golf.

His fight didn’t stop there, after he survived cancer, he began doing research, donating to cancer organizations, and talking to people in the community about his journey. When my dad heard about anyone he knew being diagnosed with cancer, he reached out and gave advice about doctors and treatment facilities he had used. His journey inspired me, and it is just one of many examples of the strength of the cancer community.

No matter how lonely a cancer diagnosis can feel, no one is alone in their battle. The doctors, nurses, and organizations dedicated to helping those touched by cancer and their families are there every step of the way. Additionally, outside of the medical field, the community of cancer survivors is unparalleled in strength.

Throughout the process of a cancer diagnosis, it is important to find comfort and support from friends, family, neighbors, and teachers. Looking back on this experience, I was blessed to have such a strong support system help me to get through the coping process. Everyone will go through their own journey, but everyone should remain hopeful because one day there will be a cure.

Throughout his battle with cancer, my dad showed me that the values of strength, determination, and hope can go a lot further than you think. He was the strongest person I have ever known and beat cancer after being in remission for five years.

When he was diagnosed with cancer, I was in seventh grade, and after he beat cancer, I was lucky enough for him to live on to see me graduate high school, as well as attend my freshman year of college. My dad lived every day after his cancer diagnosis to the fullest until the day he died in 2018 following a sudden heart attack. Losing my dad was the hardest experience, but it was a gift to still have that time to spend with him after his cancer diagnosis.

My dad always told me, “you are stronger than you think.” I want people to know from reading this blog that although there are things we can and cannot control, it is important to have hope and never give up. Now more than ever, health and wellness are not guaranteed, but we must always fight on for ourselves and the loved ones we have lost because there is still so much to live and hope for.

Today and every day, I am choosing to fight on for my dad, and I know if he were here, he would be joining me to help with my work at the Wellness House of Annapolis.

Clare Costa circle

Article by Clare Costa, Social Media Intern at Wellness House of Annapolis 

Clare Costa is a senior majoring in Integrated Marketing Communication at Pepperdine University. As an Annapolis native, Clare is excited to give back to the community through her marketing internship with the Wellness House of Annapolis. When asked why she chose to intern for the Wellness House of Annapolis, Clare said, “As soon as I found out about the opportunity, I couldn’t wait to start. As someone who has seen my loved ones battle cancer, I feel connected to the mission of the organization, and I value the work the Wellness House does to support the cancer community.”

Why Imagine?

Why Imagine?

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Many of us start the New Year with an intention and a word that will be a source of inspiration throughout the year. I would offer that it is more important now more than ever to set a positive intention for 2021.

If you haven’t already done so, I challenge you to pick a word. Think about it. Not just any word, but one that will inspire and motivate you to think positively and create.

How would you follow a year like 2020, exploring the potential of what’s next? A new year of rethinking the life we desire–our good health, friends, colleagues, family, jobs and careers. As we move out of the darkness of the year that has tested us in many ways, we are also shifting the energy into the light of imagination.

That’s why my word for the year is Imagine.

Imagine social gatherings with family and loved ones.
Imagine kids running and playing with friends.
Imagine businesses and restaurants in full operation.
Imagine a healthy community free from the fear of the pandemic.
Imagine the Wellness House’s doors once again open for in-person connections with members and volunteers, sharing the beauty of the House and of human connection.                                                                                   

The song “Imagine” is a dream for a better world, a better living for humankind. The song encourages us to imagine a life free from greediness, selfishness, evil acts, ego-centered desires, and rather to pursue better versions of ourselves that can make the world a better place for us.

In the words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope you will join me.” Let’s imagine the possibilities of the future, and then create it.

When you choose your word for 2021, open the door to possibility and let the new year unfold and become what you imagine.

Article by Mary Jermann, Executive Director, Wellness House of Annapolis

Voices from the House – Why Volunteer?

Voices from the House – Why Volunteer?

The new year is a popular time to make resolutions or intentions. You may be looking for a new approach to being happier, healthier, more productive, or finding a way to show gratitude. I can offer from experience that volunteering is a satisfying resolution to explore.

Check out this article on how important volunteering can be to health and well-being. There seems to be a magical elixir which connects helping others to helping yourself.

On a personal level, my initial connection with Wellness House began with my husband, Paul’s diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2012. His treatment consisted of external radiation and was very successful. He’s doing great.

Then in 2013, my 10-year younger sister began an arduous 3.5 year battle with lung cancer. She lived in another state, and couldn’t take advantage of the services of Wellness House. During certain times of treatment, I became her caregiver. She was fiercely independent, so by her choice my stays were limited.

In 2015, I volunteered as a house hostess because I felt the need to absorb the strength and support of the House and hoped to find ideas for my sister to explore. I attended the Caregiver Support Group and met others in similar situations. Sadly, she passed away on June 20, 2016. My bond with Wellness House was set.

Volunteering means so much to me. Everyone is different and brings unique skills and interests to the table. The Wellness House has many needs and volunteers can find a satisfying place. For me, it has been organizing the book club, occasionally writing blogs, and working on research. When the time is right, I plan to return to being a house hostess.

Due to the challenges of Covid, all events are online and as we have seen, the excellent programs being offered are bringing members, volunteers, and staff together – face to face on Zoom. If you would like to volunteer in any way, please contact the Wellness House team at admin@annapoliswellnesshouse.org

Currently Recruiting for:
  • Administrative Support                                                                                                                                                          Data entry, scanning, electronic filing, follow-up phone calls… If you love supporting an administrative role, we have it all! Of course some of these tasks will need to wait until we can safely return to the house… but much can be done from afar. We would really appreciate someone or a couple of people  who are computer savvy and would like to help with scheduling, and various ongoing projects, which can be done from home with internet access and a computer. 
  • Prayer Chain Support                                                                                                                                                      Wellness House understands the need for connection and positivity. That type of support comes in many forms and we want to embrace them all! If you are interested in participating in a Wellness Prayer Chain (on either end of the chain) offering positive energy or receiving positive energy in a way that suits your spiritual practice.
  • Wellness House Well-Wisher                                                                                                                                      Sometimes you just need someone to talk to, someone to listen… and those people who are there for you are so important! We are looking for well-wishers to connect with members who need that kindness and compassion.
  • ZOOM Meeting Support                                                                                                                                                Recurring support starting meetings, and recording member attendance.

If you would like to help support any of these roles, please send us an email at admin@annapoliswellnesshouse.org (specifying what you are interested in helping with) and we will give you a call to discuss all of the details.                      We can’t wait to speak with you!

Books+Friends=Book Club

Books+Friends=Book Club

When I was growing up, my mother often took us to the public library. She was an energetic reader and encouraged us to borrow lots of books. We would haul them to the check-out desk, creating a huge pile. I couldn’t wait to get home and start reading.

When visiting my grandparents, there was a bookshop across the street from their house. My grandmother would sometimes allow us to choose a brand new book as a special treat. One time I remember selecting a book of short stories and poems for children. It was a favorite for years.

Bookclubs are a valuable way for readers to get more involved and explore their love of books. I’ve been in three bookclubs and have found that the experience is enriching for many reasons including:

  1. Reading books that you might not have otherwise chosen.
  2. Creating friendships with other readers.
  3. Finding and sharing favorite authors.
  4. Discovering the opportunity to talk about books and exchange ideas.
  5. Being part of the book selection process.
  6. Discussion often leads to interesting topics beyond the book itself.

Wellness House has a thriving monthly bookclub that has been in operation for five years. It’s open to all members, including survivors, caregivers, family members, and volunteers. Books are chosen by members and include both fiction and nonfiction. It’s a friendly group, and everyone has a chance to participate in the conversation.

Even during these challenging months while the House has been closed, the book club has not missed a beat. Meetings, which are held regularly on the third Monday of each month at 6pm, have been happening successfully on Zoom. Logging in from home is easy and we are still able to enjoy and experience the bond of being together and talking about books.