Each year millions of Americans suffer from the consequences of cancer. From the emotional stress to the financial strains, the effects of cancer extend far beyond the patients into their families and wallets. Because providing treatment can be extremely expensive, it may seem impossible to offer the appropriate care necessary to counteract this illness.
A local group called Christmas Without Cancer is making strides against cancer to help families in the southwest suburbs with loved ones who suffer from the disease.
As a non-profit organization, Christmas Without Cancer has been providing emotional and financial support to families in Evergreen Park for the last five years. What started out as a small outreach program initially scheduled during the Christmas holiday season has grown to a larger scale year-round initiative that has helped dozens of families.
President and founder Gerri Neylon, who's served as a radiation oncology nurse at Oak Lawn-based Advocate Christ Medical Center for more than 16 years, said an encounter with an extraordinary patient "started it all."
“When I worked in the inpatient oncology unit at Christ, I met a young woman there who was diagnosed with lung cancer at 27. She was pregnant and her name was Kristin Schubbe,” said Neylon. She said Schubbe's story not only touched her heart, but eventually changed her life.
“As soon as she delivered her baby,” Neylon said, “she immediately began an aggressive round of treatment to counteract the cancer.”
Over the course of a year, Neylon befriended Schubbe and they became close friends. She learned that she was an educator and had a tremendous heart for children.
In December, 2003 doctors told Schubbe and her family that the cancer spread from her lungs to her brain.
Neylon wondered what she could do to make Schubbe feel better. “She was so full of hope,” Neylon said, and she had to do something to help her. So Neylon drafted a letter to family, friends and colleagues at the hospital asking for their support, any support.
“We collected money, gift cards and food,” said Neylon, and anything that they could give to Schubbe and her family during the holiday season.
Dave Kush, Schubbe's brother who's an economics teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor High School said, “my sister and her husband had experienced some financial difficulty because of her illness,” so they could use the help.
“She was having a really hard time during that period and it really changed her view toward the end. [The gifts] were more than material things, more so for her it was an uplifting experience that reinvigorated her,” said Kush.
“Gerri had adopted [my sister] and had taken up a collection for her and her husband. When it happened, it was like a 180 degree [turn] for her. It was so incredible,” he said.
Remembering the faces the organization has helped over the years, Kush said “the look on her face and the reaction [is] the same look on the faces of the other families that we help.”
In June of 2004, Schubbe passed away leaving behind her husband, son and brother. But because the work and support of Neylon and her colleagues touched their family’s lives in such an intimate way, Kush and Schubbe's husband decided to work alongside Neylon to bring help and hope to other families in the area by starting Christmas Without Cancer
Over the course of its five-year run, Christmas Without Cancer has provided support to more than 18 families affected with cancer, and recently, their efforts have grown tremendously. Not only have cancer survivors and family members who have been helped by organization joined the group's efforts, the initiative has rallied the support of Homewood-Flossmoor community members and students, Chicago-based law firm Hannafan and Hannafan, and medical staff members at Advocate Christ Medical Center.
“For [Kristin], she never had the opportunity [to help or give back]. It was her dream, once she had beaten the cancer to be a participant, but we’re carrying on her dream for her,” said Kush.
“That’s why we’re here," said Neylon. "It’s all in Kristin’s honor. She was such a beautiful person.” Kristin’s life story and her spirited battle with lung cancer inspired an entire community to band together and offer support to other families that are suffering in the very same way that she was.
She continued, “There are so many people that we’ve been in touch with; so many people with a need,” and any way that they can help and offer assistance is a way that they would like to stay involved, said Neylon.
When asked about the future for the non-profit, Neylon said, “we just [plan] to forge ahead with our cause.”
On July 9, Christmas Without Cancer will be sponsoring a fundraiser at Jacob’s Well Church Community, 3450 W. Maple Ave. in Evergreen Park 1-5 p.m. Members of the group will be raffling off several gifts and prizes including a flat screen television, a Webber gas grill, and a $500 gas card. Refreshments will be served along with live entertainment. All of the proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward gifts for the families participating in the organization this calendar year.
For more information on Christmas Without Cancer, contact email@example.com.