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 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.
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)
Mobilizing the Mission
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
When we started this foundation 15 years ago we embarked on a humble mission to put FUN on the calendars of one family LIVING with breast cancer in Cincinnati. In our first year, we did just that. As the years followed, a growing group of friends and happy strangers grew. They are the ones who put momentum behind our vision to provide FUN to ALL women LIVING with breast cancer. In our 15th year, we have now given over 1400 gifts of FUN to women all over America. That milestone was accomplished coast to coast alongside our KWF Chapters.
If it wasn’t for our Chapters, we would not have had the opportunity to mobilize this mission across the nation. KWF currently has 9 Chapters and four budding ambassador cities that too are on their way to cultivating our vision within their own communities. From Wooster, Ohio to Sunny South Florida, New England, and Denver our chapter leads are devoted to getting FUN on the calendars of women in their hometowns. Whether they are hosting local fundraisers or spreading mission awareness, their focus remains: to nominate and deliver gifts! Our chapters are an integral & essential part of KWF's overall growth & expansion.
South Florida Chapter Lead, Tyler Smillie has a deep connection to our mission. Tyler lost his mother, Kathi to breast cancer in 2001. When he heard about KWF through a coworker he saw an opportunity to honor his mom and build out a chapter in his hometown of Jupiter, Florida + the surrounding communities. “My most memorable KWF recipient was Heidi Dennis, who is no longer with us. She was a beam of light in the community and a true warrior during her battle with breast cancer. I remember visiting her during her screens at Sylvester Cancer Center and I coordinated with her family to surprise her with a trip to Sedona where they went hot air ballooning over the desert!”, Tyler recalls.
Cleveland Chapter Chair, Amy McDonald resonates with the mission simply because she believes in the importance of slowing down her personal race to help those who need it most. Amy & her husband Brian started KWF Cleveland in 2015 and have since championed the cause. When chatting with Amy she mentions that “the memory of Karen and what KWF does for women living with breast cancer was our inspiration! Our mission is really to give more women in the Cleveland area some much-deserved FUN! It's truly an amazing feeling that fills you with so much happiness when you can surprise someone LIVING with BC with a vacation, spa day, or some kind of FUN!”
When prompting New England Chapter Chair, Debbie Hart-Klein on her WHY, she touches on the recipient experience. “I love that we help bring some lightness and smiles to the lives of women and their families going through difficult times. I love meeting so many wonderful women. I love that my involvement pays tribute to my own mother...,” notes Debbie. Like Tyler, Debbie also lost her mother to cancer furthering her motive for starting a chapter of her own. And since the start in 2017 Debbie & her team have given away 31 gifts to deserving recipients in the New England area.
In closing, Debbie notes the significance of the mutually beneficial mission she has come to know and love. “Recipients are always so grateful, but I feel grateful to them. I am grateful to be able to be part of their lives if even just for a brief time and grateful to be part of making a positive difference. We do this to help others…but they help me as much as the other way around," she adds.
Everyone has a story and a WHY themselves. Maybe you too have wanted to mobilize the KWF mission in your neck of the woods or simply want to inject some positivity back into your community. Whatever your calling may be, we invite you into our growing KWF Family.
Please email us to learn more about our KWF Chapters!
Check out our Teams Page featuring our Chapters!
Wendy Wise Haskell
Irene & Ted Adams
Amy & Brian McDonald
San Francisco, CA
Summer is a time to celebrate. It means clearing the schedules to take that trip you've been looking forward to for months. It’s pool days, summer camps for the kids and a season that demands a bit less from us than the rest. Although, for those LIVING with cancer, summers can feel much different. They are oftentimes packed with relentless treatment and chemo schedules as childcare becomes harder to come by. Not to mention the mounting medical bills and never-ending calls to insurance companies. Cancer is canceled plans while feeling lousy, accompanied by the looming mental burden of an ongoing diagnosis.
This summer we want to change that and need your help to do so. You see, my mom, Karen Wellington, loved summer. She tried her best to pack these 4 months with as much FUN for her family as possible. But even she needed help from friends and happy strangers alike who took the pressure off. There were days when she relied on others to take care of curating that FUN. As we celebrate 15 years of KWF this July, we ask you to look inward and take time to reflect on countless families LIVING with cancer whose summers look far different than yours.
While you’re out on the lake or lounging by the pool enjoying some family time this summer, we implore you to think about the women and families this mission serves. Think about the single mom of 3 in the chemo chair down the street who has never been on vacation. Or the couple whose wedding budget is now being used to pay off medical bills due to an escalating diagnosis. Or maybe that family who is barely keeping their head above water due to a consistent barrage of bad news. These are the stories of our community that oftentimes go unnoticed. These are the narratives of our KWF recipients.
We asked a few of our generous donors why they believe it is important to slow down and give. This year we have honed in on ‘in-kind gifts’ which allows our supporters to capitalize on experiential giving. When asked why she gives, KWF donor, Molly Stewart notes, “We’ve been amazed to see the beginning of KWF and the incredible growth through the years. When we had tickets for Billy Joel and Frozen, KWF was the first place we thought of. The warm thank you notes we received from the recipients made it abundantly clear how KWF truly lifts up recipients and their families.”
Just as the Stewart family feels compelled to give gifts of FUN, others like Dr. Victor Nicolas have vacation homes they don’t use 52 weeks out of the year. Not only do ‘Dr.Vic’ and his wife, Rita generously donate their Maui home multiple times a year, but they also go the extra mile with our recipients & their families. They connect our recipients to nearby restaurants and local excursions on the island. When asked about why he gives, Dr.Vic told us that “Very few people get the concept that happiness does not come from getting, it comes from giving and it’s even better if you can give at a personal level. If you can know a real person and their real struggles and their real concerns and make their life a little easier. Even if it’s just for a week or two...it gives me a great amount of personal happiness.”
That’s it, isn’t it? The cliched sentiment that ‘through giving we receive’ somehow seems to consistently ring true no matter the circumstance. And with a mission like ours, the impact is not only immediate but transparent. Your gifts go directly to sending that single mom and her kids on their very first vacation. They allow the couple who had to put off their wedding the opportunity to experience the honeymoon of their dreams. And your donations help that family burdened by bad news to take the night off, leave cancer in the rearview and make some memories.
As a society, we are oftentimes inundated with cautionary tales as to why we should save every penny for ourselves furthering generational wealth for years to come. Although we believe in financial wellness, one of our donors has a slightly different perspective when it comes to giving. Lauren Shafer has been generously donating to our mission for over 10 years and when prompted why she gives Lauren noted, “Money is just paper when it sits in the bank and I would rather have it helping people NOW. I realize Grace has to put the fun together but contributing money is easy to do and it can make such an immediate difference. My motto is never to wait. Don’t wait to travel. Don’t wait to tell someone you love them. Don't wait to live life. Don’t wait to give….We can’t control cancer, but we can control giving.”
As you slow down this summer, we encourage you to set aside time to reflect on your WHY. Maybe you give out of abundance? Or possibly you see yourself in many of these women recounting that you too have stood where they now stand. Whatever your reason, your gift is a pivotal part of the life change that takes place when you choose to bring FUN back into this season for countless women and families LIVING with cancer.
June is National Cancer Survivorship Month! It is a time where we celebrate the survivors who make up our KWF community. June is a month to reflect on those currently LIVING with cancer, those in remission as well as those who continue LIVING ON through our shared vision. Not only does KWF provide FUN, but we also provide community through a growing sisterhood rooted in survivorship. Read on below to hear from our friend & KWF recipient, Autumn McKinley as she discusses what this month means to her. -The KWF Team
Welcome to June, and the month where we celebrate with gratitude and grace being gifted time. A reflection to be grateful that we are the ones who joined the 1 in 8 women diagnosed with breast cancer, and our journeys have continued for us to live another day. We get to share experiences and continue to make memories. We are survivors who have endured one of the greatest battles we would face in our lifetimes and then through organizations like KWF, united by a sisterhood embedded with the spirit of experiencing fun on this journey. We have found joy, strength, and community with our precious remaining moments in this vast and glorious thing called life.
When I was asked to write this piece, I was preparing to celebrate entering 42 years of 365s. Birthdays are a reflection point for me, like many others, and often like a New Year, I start to think about what I want this next go-round to look like. I also begin to reflect on what has the past years been like. Choices I made and those moments where choices were not mine to make, but my journey to be experienced, learn, and grow. There are moments that I am still in awe of when I look at the family I have created and the friends and community that I have been blessed to be a part of. A business that developed out of one of the most trying experiences I have ever faced. There is an acknowledgment of the pains, mistakes, and sorrows I endured and the impacts and strengths they have taught me. All are part of the unique experiences that tell a story, our stories.
These magical and manic moments are part of the beauty of our unique fingerprints on a timeline that has existed far before us and will exist long after we are gone. They become part of something that can never be wiped away and is part of an enormous, beautiful, and impactful experience. This month serves as a reminder to choose happiness, embrace the messiness, give yourself love and grace, and be proud of the journey you experienced along the way. We are survivors.
Autumn is an abstract artist and jewelry designer who has spent 15 years working in the country's nonprofit, advocacy, and community organizing sectors. She was always a fan of the arts and discovered her inner artistic voice while undergoing breast cancer treatment in 2017. Art became her form of healing, a place of strength, and a way to share love .
Now a survivor, she turned her passion for color and texture into a growing business with @ArtbyAutumnM and @AllCheri. She views time as magical moments to inspire and be inspired. An adventure to learn, grow, relearn, experience, shape, and share the beauty in our