Giving Back :: Celebration Serves a Dual Purpose
A long-time advocate for cancer-related causes, Sonja Gonzalez is a regular at fundraising events ranging from the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to a 60-mile walk in San Francisco in which she and a close friend raised more than $10,000 for cancer awareness.
Initially inspired to act after a co-worker was diagnosed with esophageal cancer nearly a decade ago, Gonzalez participated in the Race for the Cure that year with a sign that said "I run for all cancers." To this date, she continues to do all she can to fight cancer and raise funds with a passion - and compassion - that stands out.
But, she is the first to admit, it wasn't until she was diagnosed with Stage III colorectal cancer in October 2008 that she truly knew what fighting cancer was all about.
"I never thought it would happen to me," Sonja says, reflecting on her diagnosis. "I had been having some symptoms and on October 13 I had a colonoscopy. They told me that day that I had colorectal cancer and that is the day that changed my life."
The battle was long and difficult - beyond what she could imagine. With the support of her husband Jesse, daughter Tanya, and a close network of friends, Sonja put her all into winning the battle.
"It was my faith, the incredible support I got from family and friends, and the compassionate care from my physicians, nurses and everyone else who had a role in my treatment that got me through this," Sonja says. Among those assisting Sonja on her journey was Carol Frazell, Stoddard care coordinator at John Stoddard Cancer Center. The role of the care coordinator is to work closely with the patient and family on the cancer journey, coordinating care, educating them on the diagnosis and course of treatment, and providing reassurance, hope and encouragement. The program is entirely funded through philanthropy and is offered at no cost to patients.
As Sonja was recovering from surgery, she made her first contact with Carol.
"I was kind of out of it when she came into the room," Sonja says. "But at that moment, I looked at her incredibly kind face and I thought she was an angel. I felt safe."
Through chemotherapy, radiation and all of the ups and downs of living with cancer, Carol was there.
"This experience has changed my life and Carol and I will be friends long after this," Sonja says. "She is really like a member of our family."
"Working with Sonja was a privilege," Carol says. "Her beautiful smile, warm personality, zest for life and genuine interest in, and love for, other people are gifts she gives to all who know her. You always leave her presence feeling better."
So grateful was Sonja for the support provided by Carol, she decided to do something to give back to the Stoddard Care Coordinator service. To both celebrate the end of her treatment, and to give back to John Stoddard Cancer Center, Sonja threw a party and invited all of her friends. She had just one request for each of them: Please consider a donation to the Stoddard Care Coordinator Program. Fifty-three of her closest friends responded by donating more than $3,000.
"I am grateful and humbled by Sonja's support of the care coordinator service," Carol says. "Sonja personally knows what a challenge it is to go through seven difficult months of intense cancer treatment. She realizes that the journey is lighter when you have others there to help you finish strong. And because of the generosity of Sonja and her friends, other cancer patients going through treatment will have the support of a coordinator throughout their journey."
Philanthropy plays an integral role in the full-continuum of care provided by the dedicated team at John Stoddard Cancer Center. Gifts from individuals, foundations and organizations help to support programs that are provided free to patients and not reimbursed through insurance.
In addition to the Care Coordinator Program, the What's On Your Mind Program is also entirely supported through philanthropy. This program provides patients and families with counseling by a clinical psychologist to assist in the emotional challenge of dealing with cancer. Whether it is the fear of the unknown or the desire to give up, the psychologist works with the patients and families to understand their feelings and to develop strategies to cope throughout treatment and recovery.
For more information on how you can donate to Stoddard or the Care Coordinator Program, visit our Ways to Give page or call Caleb Hegna in the UnityPoint Health - Des Moines Foundation at 515-241-5938.