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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Cancer survivors – their stories have inspired credit unions and other organizations across the country to not only build awareness but also raise much needed funds for research. “It isn’t about our individual experiences, but rather the important thing is to build awareness about cancer so people can hopefully find it early enough,” said BMI Federal Credit Union Business Development Manager Nicole Carey. A routine monthly self examination helped the 27-year old find a lump in her breast that later turned out to be spindle-cell sarcoma, which is a very rare form of cancer with only 18 diagnosed cases worldwide. Carey is the only known survivor. Chemotherapy and radiation have no effect on stopping the spread of this type of cancer and the only option was to have a double mastectomy. “Your attitude plays a huge role and with the ups and downs of the road if you learn to rely on your friends and family to help you and use humor, the experience will be so much easier to get through,” said Carey. “When the doctors told me about the surgery, I looked at it as me getting a new set that will never sag.” Carey has taken her survival story out to the community emphasizing the importance of self-examination and participates in Race for the Cure to help support the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. During this year’s event she not only helped raise over $2,000 with the help of some 20 staffers and friends but also sang two songs during the closing ceremonies in front of a crowd of 50,000 Breast Cancer supporters in downtown Columbus, Ohio. “It is so important to get the information out there that you can have breast cancer at any age, you don’t have to be in your 40s or 50s,” said Carey. America First Credit Union Senior Auditor Melinda Stoor, also a cancer survivor agrees that the experience changes you and drives you to raise awareness. “It would be a shame to go through all that and not try to be a better person, appreciate what you have, do more for others, and I certainly don’t sweat the small stuff anymore,” said Stoor. “Auditors aren’t usually the most popular people, but when employees found out I was sick these same people that I might have tormented for 10 years sent me flowers and the outpouring of caring and support was simply amazing.” In October 2001 Stoor, who has always been active with her husband and three children, started feeling very sick and a routine visit to the doctor revealed she was pregnant. Two months later she had lost 60 pounds and couldn’t breathe-symptoms beyond just morning sickness. A second checkup revealed she had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a stage 4 cancer and she was 14 weeks pregnant. “It went so fast I was in my ob/gyn’s office, had a chest x-ray for what I thought was a really bad cold and then I was sent to a pulmonary specialist and cardiologist and being told that there was a tumor blocking the entire left lung and I had a sac around my heart that was filled with fluid,” said Stoor. “I was being advised to abort the baby to start treatment and I just didn’t feel comfortable with that, so my husband and I did the research and found that I could get treatment and still deliver a healthy baby.” Her son Aaron was born eight weeks premature and luckily his worst complication while in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for seven weeks was acid reflux. “He is the most determined, stubborn little guy- our nickname for him is the beast,” said Stoor. “As he matures, his chances for developing cancer are higher so my involvement in Relay for Life is that I figure I’ve got another 20 to 30 years to help find a cure so if he develops it then maybe he’ll have an easier time of it.” Stoor says everything seemed to fall into place balancing her treatments, work and family. She says the experience also gave her an opportunity to see the good in people, especially her co-workers. Staffers not only paid for maid services and a recliner for Stoor to sleep on but through the credit union’s Care-A-Lot program also donated their vacation time to help her out. “Everyone in the community, at church, at work was just so kind and they helped my family get through a very tough time,” said Stoor. “I’m doing great now and there is still a 50% chance of the cancer coming back, but I go every three months for check-ups. I can say this has shown me how something like this can bring people together for a common cause so I keep doing my part to build awareness.” According to America First CU HR Director Kent Strueling, the program was established in 1998 to help employees with catastrophic events. “We realized that collectively we can do more good and generate more funds than with a few bake sales or car washes,” said Strueling. “It is not designed to be a welfare program but rather a last resort, and I’m proud to say that we can help anyone with almost anything they need during the roughest times of their lives.” Set up as a 501c3 not-for-profit, Care-A-Lot has its own board of trustees and donations made are tax deductible. Employees can also donate their excess sick and leave time. The program has been used to cover everything from buying airline tickets to attend a funeral, making car payments, or mortgage payments to buying furniture. Kent says once a vice president’s wife died on Christmas Day and he was left with four boys alone – the credit union was able to buy him a freezer full of food for the whole family. “When catastrophic events happen the first question is `what can I do to help’, this program makes it convenient and easy for everyone to give a little to make a big difference in many people’s lives,” said Strueling. Over in Winston-Salem, North Carolina Allegacy Federal Credit Union had so many breast and ovarian cancer survivors and victims that they provided a sumptuous park in their honor. According to AFCU Vice President of Marketing/New Business Cathy Pace, given the 80% female staff population the odds are high that breast and ovarian cancer will strike close to home. The Park as it is called features the Pond of Hope and a bronze sculpture entitled Alive Beautiful and Victorious created by internationally renowned sculptor and local native Earline Heath King. “The Park is not a memory garden, it is a garden for people to do whatever they feel they want to do. For some it is a garden of victory and for others it’s a place to come be at peace and remember a loved one who didn’t make it,” said Pace. “It’s become a place for the whole community. You know you’ve made it when teenagers know who we are and plan to take their prom pictures at Allegacy. So we’re slowly building awareness by providing a great place to just get away.” In addition to The Park, the credit union is also involved in a variety of fundraisers and is gearing up for its seventh annual “Don’t Wait” Golf Benefit for Cancer Services, Inc. of Winston-Salem. In the past seven years some $200,000 has been donated. [email protected]

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