Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories about the Cancer Support Center and its nearly three decades of service to the community.
The Cancer Support Center is a place of hope.
Since its founding 29 years ago, the CSC’s red brick building at 2028 Elm Road in Homewood has been a place for cancer patients, cancer survivors and their supporters to come together for programs that teach as well as help them cope.
The formation of the center was the brainchild of nurse Judith Hanzelin and cancer patient Joan Hopkins. They reached out to Jenny Fallick and Patty McDonald, who were looking for support after their husbands had died of cancer.
There were few options. The nearest facility was in Hinsdale. They believed the South Suburbs deserved a place, too. The four were joined by nurse Judy Svancerak Williams, and together they worked to bring the idea for a local Cancer Support Center to fruition.
“I always say I don’t know if this could have happened anywhere but Homewood-Flossmoor because this community got behind that,” said Sue Armato, the executive director of CSC. “I see this as a testament not just to those women, but the community itself…It just proved that they were right.”
Three decades ago, people didn’t really talk about getting a cancer diagnosis. Armato remembers one mother, an early supporter of CSC, telling her about her teen daughter who got a cancer diagnosis in the 1990s and her friends stayed away because they thought they could catch cancer. There also wasn’t a clear link of how care for the whole person could help meet the challenges of the disease.
These past years, the Cancer Support Center has worked to change those attitudes. Armato estimates the staff has given 400,000 hours of services to more than 90,000 persons in the South Suburbs and beyond. CSC has opened a second branch in Mokena.
There are special programs for patients dealing with breast, metastatic breast cancer, lung, brain and colorectal cancers. All guests are invited to participate in the counseling and stress management, fitness and physical wellness, nutrition education and special programs. All services are free.
Terry Foote of Park Forest started with grief counseling after his wife, Pat, died of lung cancer in 2017. Since then, he’s joined the yoga and stress management programs, and he has started to write poetry and take up photography as a hobby. His work will be on display at CSC-Homewood this month.
“It’s just been a tremendous, transformative experience for me, working both through my grief issues and starting to rebuild my life again,” Foote said.
“I’m very grateful that our board allows us to treat people for as long as they need us,” Armato said. There are no limits to how many programs or counseling sessions patients and their families can attend because “everyone’s wellness takes its own time. It’s everyone’s journey. We will be with you on that journey the entire time, and we will take care of you” regardless of your address, she added.
Donna Anfield of Homewood, a two-time cancer survivor, has been involved at the center since 2013.
“The Cancer Support Center has given me purpose, and it’s given me a lot of strength and hope,” Anfield said. “The people at the Cancer Support Center are kind, patient, and also the people who attend classes are just full of hope and camaraderie and a positive energy that I think runs through all the support classes and groups. I think we are so blessed to have a facility like this in Homewood.”