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On the Horizon

January 13, 2023

2022 was another record year for KWF.  You helped us give nearly 500 women (and families) a break from cancer. Now, we’re making room at KWF to grow and reach even more women in 2023.

KWF is pleased to announce Katie Elbisser as Executive Director (aka Chief Wrangler of all things FUN). Katie officially hopped on the KWF “energy bus” as the Director of Development and Communications in September of 2021. It all started during COVID when KWF needed help bringing our virtual events to life. KWF was lucky to have Katie (then Client Vision Director for AGAR) at the helm, spearheading two highly successful virtual events. She was hooked, and soon volunteered her expertise in brand activation to help us with the KWF rebrand. She was instrumental in launching the brand you see today.

Katie is passionate about creating memorable experiences while building community, two things KWF creates and multiplies. She’s done everything from running music festivals, and building craft beer brands to creating hyper-local community programs. Katie is perfectly positioned to step in and take KWF to the next level.

“Before KWF, I had reached a lot of personal goals, but I was on the search to find my personal purpose. That soon changed, when my fiancé (now husband) was diagnosed with kidney cancer and life as we knew it was sent into limbo. Throughout our cancer journey, we were fortunate enough to have two sets of friends offer up a weekend at their vacation home so that we could “get away” - one weekend being the weekend we found out about Nick’s cancer and the other being the week before his surgery. These times away were incredibly meaningful to our family. It’s given me personal insight into the impact of what KWF is all about. Not just FUN, but a real sense of wellbeing and connection - not just to the recipient, but to the entire family.”

“Katie came to us in 2020 when we needed a creative outside perspective. She continues to create space where innovative ideas can come to life,” said Alexia Zigoris, outgoing Executive Director. Alexia will continue to further the KWF mission from other seats on the bus. “We knew  we needed someone who was firmly planted in the heart of what we do, and Katie embodies our GIVE FIRST mission. Katie gets it because she has lived it. ”

When founder and board chair, Kent Wellington (along with some friends and family) started the Karen Wellington Foundation for LIVING with Breast Cancer, in 2007 his thought was “Wouldn't it be cool to give one vacation each year to someone in the chemo chair like Karen once dreamed?” It seems that generosity is like compounding interest – keep pouring it in and it’ll multiply.  

In 2017 the KWF board decided it was time to hire an Executive Director to build a dynamic, motivated and innovative team. The thought was, if we can give over 800 gifts of fun in 13 years, how much more could we do if we build out the team and welcome more people in. That’s about the time Alexia Zigoris arrived on the scene. With previous non-profit leadership experience, business acumen (learned from running her own businesses), a budding coaching business, and a little extra time on her hands, she began working with the Development Committee. “Alexia leveraged our core values, technology, flexibility and an increasingly diverse group of people to help us grow our reach exponentially. It has been a joy to watch and be a part of. I knew she was the one,” said Kent. Angeline Wellington (who also works for KWF) notes, “It’s incredible to see the growth this foundation has sustained over the past few years under Alexia’s leadership. At a time when KWF could’ve plummeted due to the pandemic, she helped raise us to new heights.” (Note: KWF plans to give its 2,000th gift of fun by the end of its 15th year.)

Alexia took the wheel in March of 2020 as Executive Director.  “Looking back,” she says, “we had a clean slate. Despite a global pandemic, our leadership believed in us and gave us freedom to grow. We had no idea how much we could accomplish in just under 3 years. I am most proud of our team, how we work together, and how we stay focused on GIVING and GROWING. Cancer did not slow down and neither did we.”

Under Alexia’s leadership, the foundation has grown from 3 full-time staff to a team of 9. We dreamed up and produced Lemons to Lemonade boxes and our gifts expanded beyond vacations and spa days to offer a variety of FUN more customized to each woman’s needs. KWF income grew by 100%. Our DEI initiatives are off and running, and much more!

Katie may be taking the wheel, but Alexia will not be far away! She’ll move to an advisory role, supporting and coaching the team, working with our incredible recipient ambassador board and sharing the KWF mission. She plans to shift her focus to her existing executive coaching and consulting business, with a focus on mission-driven organizations (both for and non-profit). Stay in touch with Alexia here.

“We always said that our next Executive Director will be someone we love like a little sister. Katie is not only incredibly qualified and carries great energy, but she’s part of our family,” Alexia said.

Please join us in thanking and welcoming Alexia and Katie into new KWF roles while we keep working with a sense of urgency to reach even more women and families in 2023.  We need your help to keep this bus in motion. Many of you know from firsthand experience: for families LIVING with cancer, there’s no time like the present.

Kent Wellington, Alexia Zigoris & Katie Elbisser

Happy People

December 7, 2022

There’s a scene from the 1983 dark classic the “Big Chill” where someone asks Chloe whether an old friend was happy. She replies, “I haven’t met that many happy people in my life, how do they act?”

Here’s how we’d answer that question based on our observations.

The happy people we know are bigger than themselves. Consistently.

For almost 20 years, our family has spent Saturday mornings around a bunch of volunteers who find ways to engage with (and pour into) high-spirited kids living in poverty. Despite the challenges and chaos, the volunteers are often the happiest people we see all week. The more they consistently show up for these kids, the happier and more relaxed they seem to get. Odd. You’d think they’d be stressed out by this bunch.

For more than 15 years, we’ve also witnessed KWF Volunteers engaging with (and pouring into) women and families LIVING with breast cancer. Despite the challenges and sadness that often fill this space, KWF volunteers and staff are often the happiest people we engage with. The more they show up for KWF families, the happier they seem to get. A little tired, sure (45 events in October alone), but full of joy. Also odd given the physical and emotional challenges of the group KWF serves.  

But when we stop to think about it, it’s really not that odd.

We are all called to a life of service. Some answer that call periodically, and others embed it in the weekly rhythm of their lives. They consistently show up for others, and they live with a purpose bigger than themselves. Conversely, you'll find that the more we focus on ourselves, the less satisfied we become with what we get - we constantly yearn for "more". Because we believe "more" will make us "happy".

At KWF, we’re grateful to givers. But we know the best of them are not driven by our thanks. Or public recognition. They know this is where they belong and quietly take pride in their service.

Regardless, we want to thank them anyway.

*Thank you to those who understand the significance of showing up. Throughout the pandemic when there were not as many opportunities to express our gratitude publicly, you still kept SHOWING UP. Quietly. Consistently. Thank you for that.

* Thank you to those of you who find people and families LIVING with cancer and NOMINATE them for some fun. 500 or so of you have done that already in 2022. Sometimes you have to be creative. Sometimes you have to be aggressive and bold. And you have been.

* Thank you to those of you who have engaged with the KWF personal stories in our newsletters, social media, and events and have taken the time to SHARE the good news with others.

* Thank you to the CONNECTORS who help us build a bigger bridge between individuals who can share more with those living in the darkness and despair that accompanies cancer.

* Thank you to the DONORS of timeshares, frequent flyer miles, stock, tickets to concerts, sporting events and other financial gifts. A special thanks to the creators of our 30+ KWF FUNds. Those of you who have lost loved ones and keep their memories alive through a FUNd in their name. Or those families who have not lost someone, yet set up LIVING FUNds to do something different for others over the holidays or at other meaningful times.

* Thank you to the DREAMERS. The KWF board member who regularly enters a lottery for a dream home she can give to KWF. The small-town physician who not only gives us his vacation home 4-5 times a year, but he bought another one so he can give more. The little girl who lost her mother to breast cancer, but holds pink lemonade sales for her mother’s KWF FUNd.

Thanks to those of you who have chosen to GIVE more and engage more, rather than "GET more" in your lives. Thanks for being part of the FUN for others.  So how do happy people act? That’s how.


-Kent Wellington

The Gift of Gratitude

October 31, 2022

Our team at KWF could spend days reiterating the impact of our FUN-only mission. We could describe how the vacation home you donated changed the lives of a Cleveland family, encouraging them to spend more time together as a whole. Or how the $60 donation you made last year went toward the FUN MONEY provided to a special recipient who got to cross off that bucket-list zip-lining experience. Or perhaps you decided to host an event that raised enough money to send a recipient (who decided to stop treatment) on a final trip. And maybe that last vacation inspired her to start chemo again and keep LIVING…true story.

We could sit here and tell you close to 2,000 stories with similar impact. Although in this season of giving, we’d like for our recipients to tell you themselves. We can’t thank our givers enough for helping us change the lives of countless women & families LIVING with breast cancer.

Read below to hear the KWF mission & vision in action that could not be possible without your generosity.

GOSIA

“We had an amazing trip!! Everything from the rented car to the road trip and the weather was just perfect. We were able to catch the last warm and sunny days of the summer, as well as the first days of crisp autumn weather with changing colors on the trees. It was breathtaking !!

The house we stayed at was very nice and cozy, and it felt like home right away. We prepared most of our meals together there and enjoyed sitting at the long table, having great conversations while eating prepared food. My husband said a few times that it looked like we were in a Hallmark movie setting: eating dinner by candlelight and just being so happy together.

We spent our days hiking, kayaking, biking in Mackinac Island, playing golf and apple picking. Most days ended by the bonfire, where we talked and listened to my husband play guitar and sing for us. It was truly a beautiful time and I will forever be thankful for the generosity of the house donors, the Hayden family,  as well as the KWF.

Last week marked a year since my diagnosis and I couldn’t be happier to have spent it with my family in a beautiful home set among trees and on a lake.

This trip gave me a chance to reflect on my life over the past year, with its hard times and trials. It also made me count my blessings and it truly gave me a jump start to this coming year, with its promises and surprises.

Please know that I will forever remember your kind gesture and always feel thankful.

Sincerely, Gosia Mills”

(Walloon Lake Vacation, October 2022)

ALEXANDRIA

“I had a great Saturday!! The rain didn’t stop us and then a Rainbow came out. I want to thank the Karen Wellington Foundation for a wonderful Girls Night Out!

The Pedal Wagon was great. We visited Cinema OT and Copper and Flame. We had to stop at Sugar 513 as well for my sweet tooth.

Then we danced and sang at Tokyo Kitty. Chile I give the professional artists their props! I was out of breath!

I'm heading back to work this week and this was a great way to get back in the groove. Thanks to my Radiation Oncologist RN and a couple of friends for nominating me for this. I feel so loved and appreciated!

My plan is to share this love with others! No one should endure this fight alone!!”

-Alexandria (Girls Night Out, August 2022)

“I think we really grew closer as a family on this trip and were able to take a deep breath and let go of what we had been through this past year…

As for me, sitting on the dock with a book, admiring the beauty of the water, scenery, stars, flowers and farms was the most beautiful experience. It still feels so surreal!!! From the bottom of my heart…thank you so much.”

-Nathalie (Northern Michigan Vacation, August 2022)

AMY

“Our trip was WONDERFUL. Joe’s house was incredible—a short drive to the beach, perfect bike riding area, and the driveway made a great spot for many games of corn hole. My mom still randomly says, “I miss the Kiawah shower.”

The trip was just what we needed to regroup after treatment and before surgery. From the beach to the house, it was perfect. We played Uno or Sorry every evening, often ending up in tears from laughing so hard.

We had photos taken and loved how they turned out. A good way to commemorate the trip. Thank you again for the trip and all the work you put into it!”

-Amy S (Kiawah Vacation, July 2022)

Carrying on the FUN

October 13, 2022

THANK YOU!!  It just doesn’t seem to be enough for what this amazing organization “The Karen Wellington Foundation” and the Becky Pellegrini FUNd did for me and my family. We are forever grateful for our gift of Fun nominated as the first receiver from the Pellegrini’s.

October 29th, 2020 is a day I will never forget. Becky Pellegrini and I always had a strange connection that continued to bring us together but sharing a diagnosis of breast cancer was never anything we could either imagine. We lost Becky on October 29th the same exact day I was diagnosed.

When I told my boss about my diagnosis, she immediately stated, “I feel it in my soul you are going to be just fine. I know you are on this journey to help others who will be going through this in the future”. Look at me now….. I am standing in front of all of you, a Breast Cancer Survivor, and sharing my journey. I have said from day one “FAITH OVER FEAR”, this can be any Higher Power at the moment. A lot of times this was Becky guiding me. She would come into my day as a cardinal, the sun and even complete strangers. An example was on our gift of Fun to Maui. We were on a 4-mile hike to an amazing waterfall, through the bamboo forest and all uphill. It was a cloudy, humid day. I was about to give up and turn back around when a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds and brightened up the path. She continues to push me in times I need Strength or just a simple “Come on, Let’s Go!”

A year ago today we were celebrating this dream of Beckypalooza when Joe surprised me with being the very first recipient of the Becky Pellegrini FUNd of the Karen Wellington Foundation. My entire family was gifted a 2-week vacation to Maui, Hawaii. Dr. Vic so generously offered his Condo, and Grace worked her magic with flights and a car.  It was the perfect way for our family to SLAM the book of this journey and celebrate with this vacation together. The 4 of us took on the entire island and came back stronger than ever. The island was so peaceful. We hiked Lava Rock and bamboo Forests. Swam in the Ocean and drove up the Volcano to 10,000 feet. We toured the fields on an ATV and soared through the air zip lining. It was a trip of a lifetime, and for that, WE ARE FOREVER grateful.


-Kristin Ghiringhelli

Kristin and her family were the first recipients of the Becky Pellegrini FUNd of KWF out of our Kalamazoo, Michigan Chapter! Kristin addressed the crowd with this speech at this summer's second Annual Beckypalooza. She and her family are now excited to 'give first' and help put FUN on the calendars of countless other families LIVING with cancer like their own.

The Healing Power of FUN

September 15, 2022

This September KWF partnered with the OHC Team to tell Michelle’s story as both an OHC Patient as well as a KWF Recipient. Through this narrative, we also hear from several oncologists who speak to the power that lies within KWF’s mission.

BELOVED MOTHER, GRANDMOTHER, AND BREAST CANCER PATIENT RECEIVES DAY OF PAMPERING FROM KAREN WELLINGTON FOUNDATION

On Friday, April 2, 2021, Michelle Siefke, a mother of four and a grandmother of three, had a slight adjustment in her normal work routine as an intervention specialist at Mercy McAuley High School. Her employer had arranged for a mobile mammography van to visit the school to provide mammograms to interested staff members. Michelle took advantage of the service. The following Monday, she received a call that the radiologist saw something abnormal on the images and recommended follow-up imaging. Additional imaging revealed breast cancer. Surrounded by loved ones and the support of her community, OHC medical team, and the generosity of the Karen Wellington Foundation (KWF), Michelle is winning her battle and celebrating along the way.

“There’s never a good time for a cancer diagnosis, but this was terrible timing for me,” said Michelle. “My daughter, Kylee, was getting married in five weeks. I didn’t know where to start, so I asked my principal at McAuley for a recommendation for a doctor. I knew that her daughter worked in the oncology field.” The conversation led her to OHC medical oncologist and hematologist Suzanne M. Partridge, MD, and Dr. Dianne Runk, a local breast surgeon. Dr. Runk performed a lumpectomy to remove a seven-millimeter mass from Michelle’s breast. She confirmed Michelle had stage one breast cancer. The following day, Michelle attended two of Kylee’s wedding showers.

Shortly afterward, she met Dr. Partridge who recommended oncotype testing on the mass and encouraged Michelle to discuss this decision with her family. An oncotype test analyzes a tumor sample to predict how likely it is that the cancer will return and whether chemotherapy and hormone therapy would benefit the patient. “Removing Michelle’s tumor gave her an 80 percent chance of survival,” noted Dr. Partridge. “I wanted her to be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to be more aggressive with therapy if she wasn’t satisfied with 80 percent.”

“Dr. Partridge was lovely,” said Michelle. “She left the oncotype testing choice up to me. She made me feel like she was a friend and that we were going to get through this. I discussed the testing with my family, and we were worried about the 80 percent survival rate. We wanted to be aggressive.”

The Oncotype test revealed that Michelle would need radiation and chemotherapy. Dr. Partridge recommended beginning treatment following Kylee’s wedding, including radiation under the care of OHC radiation oncologist Matthew H. Bertke, MD. In the summer of 2021, Michelle began her first of four rounds of chemotherapy. “I had friends who had cancer about 15-20 years ago, so I thought I knew what to expect,” said Michelle. “For me, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but you’re sitting and chatting with others receiving chemo and it’s gut-wrenching to know that many of them have prolonged treatment.”

On the morning of July 8, 2021, Michelle woke up and half of her hair was on her pillowcase. More would fall out in the shower. “I was going out with my siblings for my sister’s birthday, so I instantly thought of my hat collection,” said Michelle.

Eventually, Michelle and her supportive best friend went to a hairdresser and shaved their heads. “There were days that I didn’t want to go out because I was bald. My hair was starting to grow back around Christmas, but I didn’t want people to take pictures of me.”

Kylee felt that her mother needed a day of pampering as a diversion from her cancer treatment and nominated her for a gift of FUN from KWF, an organization headquartered in Cincinnati that sends cancer patients and their families LIVING with cancer on special vacations, relaxing spa days, concerts, and other FUN-ONLY activities. Kent Wellington established KWF in 2007 after his wife, Karen, lost her battle with cancer. Karen had hoped to send one cancer patient a year on a vacation after she beat cancer. Celebrating its 15thyear, KWF has given over 1,300 “Gifts of FUN” to cancer patients and their families.

In March of 2022, Michelle received a surprise e-mail notification that she was the recipient of a KWF experience. “The Foundation reached out asking what type of experience I was interested in,” said Michelle. “I didn’t think I deserved it as I felt it was a gift for others who were sicker than me.”

In July, the special gift of fun arrived. Michelle and Kylee enjoyed a well-deserved relaxing spa day at Woodhouse complete with massages, manicures, and pedicures. “It never occurred to me to have a spa day,” said Michelle. “I loved it! The massage was great, and I’m definitely going back.”

“The gifts KWF provides to patients have a positive impact on their healing as they affect their emotional well-being,” noted Dr. Partridge. “Patients coping with cancer are consumed by their disease—the symptoms, the constant schedule of medical appointments, treatment side effects, and the emotional rollercoaster,” said OHC President and KWF Medical Advisory Board member Dr. Randolph “Randy” Drosick, MD. “As their healthcare team, we work to help support our patients emotionally, but the work that KWF does allows patients to pause from all of this and enjoy precious moments with their loved ones. For some patients, they are experiencing a trip or special event for the very first time. It’s critical for overall well-being.”

Michelle will continue to follow up with Dr. Partridge for the duration of the five years she is being treated with an estrogen blocker. “Estrogen stimulates the growth of some breast cancers,” noted Dr. Partridge. “Drugs that lower estrogen levels can help prevent cancer recurrence.” Every mammogram since the lumpectomy has been normal.

Friends, loved ones, co-workers, and other compassionate individuals can nominate patients actively battling cancer to receive an experience from the KWF. To make a nomination or learn more about the Foundation, visit https://www.karenwellingtonfoundation.org/main.

To learn more about community resources available to cancer patients and their loved ones visit OHC’s website at https://ohcare.com/patient-resources/community-support-resources/. For more information on breast cancer, OHC’s breast surgical oncology program, and the advanced therapies offered by OHC’s cancer experts, call 1-888-649-4800.

-Noel Balster (Communications Leader at OHC)