As we move into the 15th year of KWF this month, you might think you know how it started. You don’t.
Most people think it started with a phone call to hospice that day Karen died in July 2007. Not true. It started before that.
Some people think it started when Karen said one day after chemo that it would be cool if our small family could go on a vacation each year and help send someone else in the chemo chairs next to her. That happened. But that was not the beginning. No, you have to go back further.
The spark that ignited the spirit of KWF started quietly with a lady named Marla Grote back in 1998. It was at the end of Karen’s first year of chemo when Marla invited Karen and our family to stay in her family vacation home in Sea Island, GA.
Karen, without hesitation, said “Yes!” Schedules, work, and “To Do” lists be damned.
It was a team effort between Marla and Karen. A cheerful giver reached out to a cheerful receiver. A classy lady who realized that the greatest thing she could do with her vacation home was share it with someone else. And a young mom who realized that she was not too big, too strong, or too proud to accept a break from cancer.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Marla was diagnosed with cancer the next year and died the year after that. Just like that. Here, then gone. The first paragraph of her obituary reads, “Marla Grote spread kindness and her homemade hot fudge sauce generously.” That’s for sure.
Our family was lucky we crossed paths with Marla. I remember that first-year-of-cancer Sea Island vacation vividly. If I close my eyes, I can see our little 2 and 4 year old kids in goofy sun-hats shoveling sand on the beach. Relaxed adults with feet up and glasses of wine outside on the patio bordering the marsh. Family walks to the beach. Karen emerging from a spa down the road, following a torrential thunderstorm that sent us all scrambling, without her knowing anything had happened. Perfect.
I don’t remember cancer on that vacation. I don’t even remember thinking about cancer on that vacation. Thanks Marla.
As things continue to open back up, KWF continues to search for the next Marla’s and Karen’s out there. They need to meet. Will you help us introduce them to each other? We’ve been so buttoned-down and bottled-up with Covid. We’re going to need some leaders out there to get off the sidelines and show us how to have fun again. How to take some chances. How to give first. How to receive without over-thinking. Like Marla and Karen. Blink and we’re gone. Like Marla and Karen. 9 million families in the United States have 2 or more homes. It’s time to open them up and fill them with the joy that bursts from the seeds of adversity. Like Marla and Karen.
You see, when a cheerful giver is matched with a cheerful receiver, it’s a beautiful thing. We focus so much on the negativity of the cancer diagnosis that we forget what is likely the reason God makes us face such adversity in the first place: so that our brothers and sisters can step-up to help. We hear it said all the time by KWF recipients: “Cancer brings out the best in others.” Yes. But only if we are bold enough to give generously. And bold enough to receive humbly and gratefully.
Yes, it’s a beautiful thing.
Like Marla and Karen.
Dear future KWF recipient,
Hi! First, I want to introduce myself. My name is Beth Brubaker, and most days you can find me running after our 2-year-old daughter, spending time with my family, and teaching high school students.
However, if you are reading this, we also have something in common. You have heard the same words I did on September 26, 2018.
“You have cancer.”
Those words turn worlds upside down. At 31, my life instantly changed. Those words take normalcy away. They shook me to my core.
Now, I want to say welcome to the sisterhood that no one wants to be a part of. We are truly a sisterhood. I also want to tell you that everything you are feeling right now is justified.
I felt completely out of control. Medical professionals began planning every moment of my life for the next two years. I heard words that were foreign to me.
Instantly, they became part of my lexicon. That was incredibly difficult to accept… It is really hard.
There was also a “small” addition, we will say, to my breast cancer journey. Four days after diagnosis, I found out I was 1 in 3000.
I was the 1 in 3000 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant. Crazy, right? Every cancer journey is different, and all of them, regardless of circumstance, are challenging and downright scary. It is okay to be scared. You are beginning a journey. Some days, it will feel like a 40-yard dash and other days, it will feel like an endless marathon. YOU CAN DO THIS. However, I want to give you a small piece of advice.
Just say YES. I know what you are thinking - say yes to what?
After two surgeries and six rounds of chemotherapy, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl in May 2019. For nine months, my husband and I poured every ounce of our energy into keeping our daughter and me safe. There was so much joy in her delivery.
What I did not count on, however, was how difficult it would be to not only go through the typical postpartum experience but also restart chemotherapy with a newborn. After delivery, I still had 10 rounds of chemotherapy to go. Every Thursday, I would leave my sleep-deprived husband and newborn daughter at home to go sit in an infusion chair for hours at a time.
I would then go home absolutely wiped and try to be the best wife and mother I could be. Not only was I physically exhausted but emotionally drained. Any shred of self-worth was gone. I cried every week.
I was not thinking about anything except getting through these last rounds of chemotherapy. And then the email.
One of the breast center’s nurse navigators and my best friend from high school watched what was happening. They saw me struggling.
While sitting in my infusion chair during yet another chemotherapy treatment, I received an email with a subject line.
“Spa Day - Karen Wellington Foundation.”
Those wonderful people in my life nominated me to go on a spa day. My first thought? No. There were people more deserving than me. People who were REALLY struggling through their treatments.
Then, I took a step back. I realized how much I wanted to do this. I NEEDED a day that I was not just a cancer patient. I needed to have a day that I felt like myself.
I said YES.
23 days after finishing my final chemotherapy treatment, instead of an infusion chair, I sat in a pedicure chair. I spent a glorious afternoon with my best friend, laughing and relaxing.
I was still bald with no eyebrows or eyelashes to speak of. However, for the first time in 11 months, I felt absolutely beautiful. This was a tremendous turning point for me. It gave me the pick-me-up I needed to finish the rest of my treatments (I still had radiation and immunotherapy to go).
Even more so, it gave me the strength to be the best role model I could be to my daughter. I needed to be strong for her. I needed to show her that ordinary people, given extraordinary circumstances, can overcome anything.
Now remember - when you get that phone call, email, or surprise at your door, Say YES. Do not think twice. By saying yes, you are realizing Karen Wellington’s dream - to give women like us a much-needed opportunity to have FUN added on our calendar in the midst of cancer. By saying YES, you will join one of the most welcoming and loving families there is. By saying YES, you allow yourself that much-needed place of peace.
My dear friend, I know that right now, having fun is probably the furthest thing from your mind. Trust me, I understand. You may also feel undeserving of something like this. I promise you that you deserve everything. You will get through these tough moments.
Just remember my piece of advice through it all.
With light and love,
By: Beth Brubaker
2019 Spa Recipient
Recipient Ambassador Board Member
“We went from feeling stressed and scared at doctors’ appointments to feeling alive at the Grand Canyon. This trip was truly the most wonderful blessing.” – Donya Kazemi, daughter of recipient Fariba Kazemi
Fariba Kazemi and her family were gifted a trip of FUN this past March to Flagstaff, Arizona where they were able to unwind and relax… except for the moments when Fariba’s oldest daughter, Donya, would pose on the edge of a cliff, that is! I had the pleasure of speaking with Fariba and her “daredevil daughter” this past month to learn a little bit more about the positive impact of their trip and how it reconnected them as a family.
Fariba, an Exchange Student Coordinator for over twelve years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2019. Sometime between the craziness of cancer treatments, surgeries, and stress, Fariba’s 20-year-old daughter, Donya, nominated her mom for a much-needed gift of FUN through KWF, without knowing what exactly it would entail. Donya is studying acting at Wright State University; though she is kept quite busy as a college student, her desire to put FUN on her mom’s calendar became her top priority during this time. “We needed something positive to look forward to as a family during a period where everyone was weighed down by ‘what-ifs,’ and this was exactly what we needed,” said Donya as we chatted about her discovery of KWF and the reason she nominated her mom, “Having a trip on the calendar would just bring a positive energy into our lives that so desperately needed it.”
After Fariba’s nomination, she was sent the news that she and her family were headed to Arizona to explore all that nature has to offer them. They stayed at a relaxing AirBnB, hiked around Sedona, ‘off-roaded’ in their Jeep, and adventured in the Grand Canyon. “It was so nice to have a time to release all of our negative emotions and just have FUN!” Donya exclaimed in between laughter about the excitement of their KWF trip. With excitement and adventuring came bonding for Fariba and her family. Both Fariba and Donya described a beautiful narrative about the strength of their family dynamic throughout Fariba’s cancer journey, but also on their trip. Fariba recalls that their time in Arizona was such a great way to reconnect as a family away from the stress of cancer, even if there were instances where she was “almost given a heart attack” by Donya’s adventurous spirit!
I think we can all learn a lesson or two from Fariba’s daughter, Donya: let’s be daring! And that doesn’t always mean that we have to pose on the nearest cliff to do so. Let's be daring by pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. Let’s be daring by nominating a deserving woman like Fariba to receive a gift of FUN. Let’s take a page from Donya’s book, and dare to say YES to KWF.
By: Ashley Fasola, Scripps Howard Communications Intern
I am a two-bedroom condo close to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. I am no stranger to Mickey Mouse ears, princess dresses, and Disney movie singalongs. The magic of Disney shines throughout each room, but the families who make this condo even more magical are the Karen Wellington Foundation recipient families. These families, consisting of kings, queens, princes, and princesses, radiate a refreshing joy and a childlike appreciation of each day, no matter their age. Once they walk through my doors, time seems to stop.
A grandmother and grandchild stayed here on one occasion, their suitcases stuffed to the brim with both princess dresses and KWF gear. I am not sure I've ever seen a grandparent so enamored with the idea of a week-long adventure at Walt Disney World, but yet again I've never quite met a woman like this one either. She danced, sang, and skipped around the living room, kitchen, and bedrooms with her granddaughter to the Frozen soundtrack each day, matching – if not exceeding – her young granddaughter’s energy. This woman, a KWF recipient, was powerful and proud, yet delicate and gentlehearted – some may say she closely resembled the protagonists of the Disney movies we all know and love. She did not let the difficulties of day-to-day life get to her as many people do; no August day too hot, no wake-up call too early, and no line was too long as she explored the Disney parks. Every day was a gift.
This KWF recipient exuded lively energy and childlike wonder as she told stories to her granddaughter far beyond her bedtime. No matter how long their adventures at the parks were, she always saved a little extra time to debrief on the magic that had occurred that day. Oh, how I wish every visitor carried this free-spirited mindset that all Karen Wellington Foundation recipients seem to hold.
I have been lucky enough to be a part of families’ most special memories: first family vacations, first excursions to the castle, and even first steps have been taken here. Oftentimes, tales of enchantment and awe from visits to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios are shared within these walls, but the tales of strength and determination from KWF recipients are, in my opinion, the most enchanting of all. These families soak up every second of fun that their trip has to offer, with bright pink Mickey Mouse ears in tow. Many know Walt Disney World to be the “Happiest Place on Earth,” but I strongly believe that I take that title when Karen Wellington Foundation recipient families stay here.
By: Ashley Fasola, Scripps Howard Communications Intern
I am a quaint cabin that sits on Norris Lake in Tennessee. Made of wood, my rustic architecture stands tall overlooking the clear waters that gently crash into the dock. Boats cruise by, children bounce up and down on tubes as their giggles echo across the lake, and bonfires light up the night. I offer a relaxing getaway for families of young and old; grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, teenagers, and toddlers have stayed within these walls.
I can recall one family in particular that left a specific mark, and I’m not just talking about the wet footprints from the four children. This family brought an energy into these walls that had not been present before. Upon arrival, the boys skipped through the front door with excitement and ran into every room with “Oohs” and Aahs” trailing behind them as they peered out each window at the lake. The daughter walked straight to the dock to stick her feet in the water, capturing the view with her phone. The mom swung a bag over her shoulder, as her blue eyes beamed with excitement. “LIVING” in pink letters stretched across the front. Seemed fitting. Unlike their children, the parents stepped foot inside my doors and just stood for a moment in stillness. Their eyes roamed around my walls until they met each other’s gaze. They exhaled. As peaceful smiles crossed their faces, I could sense they had been waiting for me.
Each morning, the boys rolled out of their bunkbeds and scampered down to the dock as their dad followed closely behind them. The mom and daughter would stay behind to chat over coffee on the screened-in porch, laughing at the entertainment below them on the lake. There was not a single dull moment with this family. I watched them participate in countless cannonball competitions, eat copious amounts of s’mores as they huddled around the bonfire, and have long conversations as the sun set on the lake. The conversations that this family had were my favorite. They talked about the past, the present, and the future with a lens of gratitude and hope, thanking the Karen Wellington Foundation and my generous owner for making their special trip possible. They discussed the true meaning of the word LIVING, just as the mom’s tote bag had indicated.
This Karen Wellington Foundation recipient family brought a new sense of LIVING into every room of mine. On the last morning of their stay on Norris Lake, the mom tiptoed out to the dock as her children were still sound asleep. With a journal and pen in hand, she sat with her toes in the water and began to write letters to each of her four children under the rising sun. In these letters, she detailed the love that she had for them and the joy that this trip had brought to her heart.
What an honor it is to be the place where LIVING became more than just a word for this family.
By: Ashley Fasola, Scripps Howard Communications Intern
This holiday season provided a chance for the KWF Emerging Leaders group to shine some light on some of the most inspirational women in our community. After a year filled with Covid and cancer, chemo chairs and canceled plans, KWF wanted to end on a high note rather than allow lingering gloom to define this year for our recipients. Our special ladies deserved better.
That’s when the KWF Emerging Leaders stepped-in and stepped-up. Our KWF EL Committee is made up of 30 passionate, young professionals in the Cincinnati area all looking to get more FUN on the calendars of deserving women LIVING with cancer. Our ELs saw an opportunity to mobilize on a grand scale, went for it, and delivered. Big time.
The ELs created KWF’s “12 Days of Giving” campaign in December. Over 20 of us masked-up and showed-up on the doorsteps of a dozen new KWF recipients, bearing gifts of fun.
From spa days to boxes of FUN, personalized presents to vacations, these ladies felt the love from our members, especially Stephanie Camp.
KWF recipient ambassador, Tara Riley recently had nominated her cousin, Stephanie for a gift of FUN. Myself as well as Emerging Leaders, Noelle Weber & Claire Suetholz joined Tara on day 8 of 12 for a delivery we will never forget. When we arrived on Steph’s doorstep we were overwhelmed with her excitement and infectious spirit. A burst of joy that had been slumbering in 2020. She was amazed that we were there to surprise HER with a box of FUN that included a baking class with a special guest from her beloved, and we do mean BELOVED, Cincinnati Bengals. She exploded with happy tears. It wasn’t just a gift, it was an invitation to join a KWF sisterhood that has become bigger than cancer. And she accepted the invitation without hesitation.
As Claire put it, “When we made that delivery to Stephanie, we quickly realized she was a walking example of the KWF mission. Stephanie had so much joy and zest for life, though life hadn’t been easy on her. It was an incredible reminder to me to embrace life’s struggles by bringing the FUN. I feel lucky I got to be there to welcome Stephanie to the KWF family!”
A mother, grandma and breast cancer survivor with other family challenges, Stephanie has already lived a full life. Despite cancer and personal loss, Steph was quick to remind us what pulls her through... faith. “Faith is a big part of my life. I always bring faith,” she noted with a cheery confidence. In fact, we observed in Steph an infectious positivity most people go through life looking for, but never find. Steph had it. In spades.
As the three of us drove home that night, we couldn’t stop smiling. It had been a tough year for us too and this holiday season was a bit of a mystery. Not as merry. Until we met Stephanie. Her faith and that a reservoir of joy that laid just below the surface waiting to be invited out, stuck with us. It moved us to our own happy tears. Not only that evening but throughout the holiday season and as we write this on a cold, rainy, late January day. Joy is still out there. It might be a bit locked-up these days, but each of us holds the key to unleash it in others and ourselves.
That’s the thing about our 1,000+ KWF gift deliveries. You head in thinking you are the giver and you are going to play a small role in changing someone’s life. But what we find is that both the giver and the recipient are changed exponentially for the good. It’s not
1 + 1 = 2 addition. No, it’s multiplication. And a reminder that 'give first' is really an invitation for each of us to ‘LIVE first’ more in all that we do.
Thanks for the gift, Stephanie. We can’t wait to include you in another magical KWF delivery.
-Angeline Wellington, Claire Suetholz, Noelle Weber & all our Emerging Leaders
KWF Emerging Leaders:
Bre Romeo Bovara: co-chair
Angeline Wellington: co-chair
Drew Ross, Noelle Weber, Robby Wellington,
Annie Keefe, Claire Suetholz, Jack Fitzgerald
Jack Perez, Brad Chamblin, John Popken,
Francie Ruppert, Matt Bitter, Marta Stewart
Kirran Magowan, Matt Kittell,
Simran Magowan, Jessica Bailey, Robert Bovara, Meredith Brown,
Amabel Bunry, Stevi Carr , Anna Coutts,
Megan Day, Sean Ironmonger
Frederick Riley, Sam Rossell, Brooke Stull
Marcus Thompson, Lindsay Tillinghast
As I look outside on this cold, grey day in Cincinnati I’m reminded that my friend on the other end of the phone has a similar perspective, yet a much different view on this Sunday. Dr. Victor Nicolas or “Dr. Vic” as we call him is relaxing at his beachside home in Maui, enjoying an extended honeymoon with his wife, Rita. Dr.Vic has been an anesthesiologist for the past 35 years and a Hawaiian vacation homeowner for just shy of eight. He has generously given his beautiful condo to KWF recipients since 2015.
The special thing about Dr. Vic is that he fully embodies our ‘Give First’ mentality. He has a ‘no strings attached’ approach when it comes to sharing the gifts life has given him with others.
When I spoke with him about what prompted his generous spirit he elaborated on the ‘miracle of giving.’ “Anyone who comes here, they come as our guest,” notes Dr. Vic. He went on to explain the importance of making lasting memories for families LIVING with cancer and how if he can provide his home to do just that, he’s “in.”
Just this past November, KWF lost a member of our recipient family, Becky Pellegrini. Dr.Vic was behind this nomination from the start. He knew Becky’s father, Dale and made sure she enjoyed some time on the island he loves so much.
As her family describes, “Becky spent a good amount of time joyfully watching the sea turtles swimming from her balcony that week.” No cancer in sight - just the Haleakala sunrise and blue ocean for miles. Becky loved that vacation so much that her family has decided to all go back next year. Her kids will now have the chance to watch those same sea turtles from that same balcony thanks to the generosity of Vic and Rita.
That same generosity that was on full display just a couple of weeks ago. On December 23rd, KWF gave our 1,000th gift of FUN to 29-year-old Jamie Helbig, a Covid/ICU nurse LIVING with breast cancer. After a year filled with Covid, cancer and a canceled wedding, we knew Jamie needed that trip to Maui. And it is no surprise that Dr.Vic felt the same. His daughter, Cara was present at that delivery to offer up insight on the island and a warm Aloha welcome to Jamie and her fiancé. The same couple has since decided to make that trip a destination wedding.
As our conversation came to a close, Dr.Vic elaborated on the magic of Hawaii. The famous Mama’s Fish House where he frequents, the beauty of the Maaleah Bay and the commanding view of the Haleakalā Volcano in East Maui. All beautiful, yet inconsequential in comparison to the feeling he gets when he can share it all with women and families LIVING with cancer.
We'll give Dr. Vic the last words here, “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.”
By: Angeline Wellington
We like Yes people.
Not the spineless, people-pleasing kind. But the ones who are quick to say Yes to things that matter.
KWF is a growing group of friends who say Yes to helping others. And, just as importantly, say Yes to being helped. It’s a two-way street for all of us. Some days we’re on the receiving end; some days we’re the givers. As John Denver put it, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.” Yep.
KWF only works if we’re all Yes people.
Our Givers say Yes by finding ways to donate time, money, vacation homes, concert tickets or other fun stuff. Or by nominating a friend living with cancer and helping us put some fun on their calendars. Our Givers are busy, they have jobs, families, responsibilities or their own dreams. But they are Yes people, willing to stop their own races for others. In fact, Yes people make others a priority. Even when the “others” are perfect strangers.
It’s also important that our recipients and their families are quick to say Yes. The magic of KWF only works when we say Yes. If everyone nominated for a trip says NO because they believe someone else is more deserving, then that magic doesn’t work.
We are all born to be givers AND receivers. God didn’t give each of us our own planet to go it alone. He put all of us on this one globe, gave us a bunch of toys, beauty, sharp objects and adversity, and said, “It’s all here, figure it out.” We figure it out by working together and saying Yes to both receiving and giving.
We like the spirit of our KWF friend Krissi who was given a KWF spa day… Her friend questioned why she accepted the gift and didn’t offer to pay for a spa day. Krissi said, I’ve had an awful year living with breast cancer, someone wants to send me to a spa, so I said Yes. When I feel better, I’m going to send three other women living with breast cancer to a spa. Now that’s a Yes person LIVING with cancer. Krissi is a generous giver and has been for years!
Then there are the families who have never been on a vacation before receiving one from KWF. They say Yes even though they don’t have luggage or any idea how to negotiate a busy airport. They are open to receive. That experience gives them memories that last a life-time and beyond. Now, we have women saying yes to jumping out of planes, fly fishing expeditions, traversing the Grand Tetons, chilling at the beach with a group of girlfriends, petting a sloth for the first time and so much more!
But there’s a flip-side. When someone says NO to FunNow, there is no guarantee of FunLater.
About 30% of KWF gifts of fun are “last” ones. The past few years, we’ve had some recipients who were given vacations. They delayed and said NO because their kids had important school activities and were too busy for a break. Or they said “NO not now” because they were early stage and thought there would be more time. We lost those recipients and those last vacations were never taken.
In the summer of 2006, Karen and our family said Yes to a vacation to Newport, Rhode Island with close friends. It was a great vacation. Full of new places and experiences, including a ferry ride to an island, a lobster dinner on a picnic table in a park followed by whiffle ball games, spur-of-the-moment sunset ocean fishing with cheap rods hurriedly bought from a Wal-Mart, long walks, smells of the ocean, a tour of a row of mansions, and lots of laughs. It also was our last vacation with Karen. I’m glad our friends offered and our family said Yes.
- Kent Wellington, KWF Board Chair and Yes man
“Pamela’s Bible still sits in the den, right where she left it,” reflects Christopher Smitherman of his late wife, Pamela. “You can’t think of Pamela and not think of her faith. It was the centerpiece of her life.” That’s who Pamela was …and will always be in the hearts of those who knew her.
Pamela’s 50th Birthday is November, 23, 2020. This month, we are honoring Pamela! December would be her 30th wedding anniversary to college sweetheart, Christopher Smitherman, Vice Mayor and new KWF board member. When asked why he is serving on the KWF board, Christopher emphatically states, “I want to stop cancer! Since I can’t, I want to make sure that those who are fighting cancer have fun and enjoy life. I’ve never met an organization that is so much about life!”
Pamela and Christopher met in 1989 at Bowling Green State University on the way in to a Frat Party – not the Animal House kind, but a more dignified crowd! It was the fall of her freshman year and both were focused on their studies. Pamela, who ultimately earned a master’s degree in technical writing, dreamed of impacting the world through education. Christopher was in finance. Their combined sense of purpose made them an unbeatable pair. One year after meeting, they married and began their life together. Christopher’s family and his career brought them back to Cincinnati. His leadership on Cincinnati’s City Council placed the family squarely in the public spotlight.
But Pamela’s public life never conflicted with her personal sensibility and values. Her “integrity and doing the right thing never changed,” says her mom, Michele Banks. She notes “from an early age, Pamela was a leader.” She stepped up when others didn’t. She was a cheerleader, active on student council, played both the flute and piano, academically strong, well-liked, and respected. She was also incredibly talented. She was a seamstress and even sewed her own wedding dress! She was a writer and teacher, swim coach, soccer mom extraordinaire, positive force in her community, and a stand-tall-kind-of-wife. But her best and favorite role was as a mom to the Smitherman’s five children, whom she adored. They have four sons: Christopher (24), Malcolm (22), Isaac (20), Caleb (18). Their sweet long-awaited daughter, Camille (12), came 6 years after Caleb. “Children were everything to her,” Christopher emphatically states.
In December of 2017, Pamela learned she had an aggressive cancer that spread rapidly. The Smithermans banded together, as they always did, under and around Pamela and her mom-sense leadership.
Christopher’s sister-in-law, Liza Smitherman, nominated Pamela for a vacation through KWF. By the summer of 2018, Pamela was too sick to travel, but that didn’t stop them. The Smithermans were gifted a KWF Cincinnati staycation (at the downtown Hilton). The entire family was there, including Pamela’s mom. “Playing games, watching movies, hanging out as a family, talking about favorite memories with their mom,” that’s what Michele remembers most about the last vacation she took with her daughter.
They had three adjoining suites, snacks of every kind – including the best of Cincinnati food, pedicures and lots of other fun activities. But as Michele recalls, “I am most grateful for the time sitting crocheting, watching, listening… together in one room” during this last family vacation.
Six month later, Pamela passed away.
A year before their staycation in Cincinnati, when Pamela was more mobile, they rented a cabin in Gatlinburg. It was just the seven of them. That was a “magical moment,” says Christopher. “The blessing of cancer is that it really brings out the best in you. You focus on what’s important. I feel every second that I’m here.” It’s these memories and moments of joy that solidified Christopher’s interest in KWF’s mission.
Her sewing room remains on the third floor of their family home. And she lives on through her children, especially Camille, who inherited her mother’s spirit and is known to break out in a cheer or two that her mom taught her.
That Bible that sits in the den was well worn over the years. Pamela knew the love of God in her life. Of the thousands of passages she treasured, she wanted these words to be shared at her celebration of life,
“Let your light so shine before men,
that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
It’s a reflection of her faith, yes, but it’s her hope for you as well. Pamela’s light shines on. Through her five children, her husband, Christopher, the many children she impacted in her community, the women she worked alongside of and those reading these words.
KWF joins with the Smithermans in celebrating Pamela this month! Join us by shining your light to others and LIVING your life to the fullest.
Note: When she learned she had cancer, Pamela insisted that her younger sister, Tracy Stone start getting mammograms. In 2019, Tracy was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Fortunately, they caught it early. Tracy, her surgeon and treatment team credit early detection for saving her life. She is now doing well. Tracy is married to Jeff and has three children, Katiri, Aliesha and Michael. She lives in Chicago and is currently working on her PhD.
Pamela’s family has established the “Pamela Smitherman FUNd” to give Gifts of Fun to other women and families LIVING with cancer. This includes family vacations, spa days, fun experiences like skydiving, weekends with girlfriends, concerts, trips to the zoo, family gatherings, staycations and so much more.
Text PamelasFUNd to 44-321 to donate or reference the “Pamela Smitherman FUNd” HERE .
“I didn’t think it possible, but my heart has grown another size thanks to the generosity of the donating family, the mission of the KWF, and the memories made with my wonderful family. I am very similar to Karen in that I too want FUN on the calendar. I need to write it down, to anticipate it, and to imagine what it will be” - Jen Anderson
Do Today Well. That was Jen’s life motto, her daily outlook and the legacy she left behind. You see, as my mom would put it...cancer sucks. The chemo, the radiation, losing your hair, the fatigue, the nausea, all the ‘what ifs’ and the extra BS that comes along the way. But one thing cancer does provide is a new life perspective for all those it affects. “Cancer brings out the best in everybody. You really get to see the best side of the world. The KWF is the exclamation point on that statement,” said Jen of her cancer journey in 2015. Jen had an appreciation for life. She understood the power of LIVING for today.
I (virtually) sat down with Jen’s mom, Roz Mathie, this past month to learn a little bit more about herself and Jen’s lasting impact on all those who crossed her path. Roz, originally from the East Coast of Australia ended up moving to the states after high school. She attended Miami University and soon after found her calling as a nurse. Roz practiced at the Christ Hospital for 17 years. And just as Roz lived to help other individuals, she expressed how Jen lived out a similar life mantra. “You know, she should’ve been a lawyer...she loved fixing people’s stories,” Roz states. When asked about Jen’s personality Roz spoke of her daughter's quick wit, intelligence and humor. She was a critical thinker, a model of efficiency, as well as incredibly hilarious. Jen was always telling funny stories. Much of which she did on their KWF trip.
Jen and her family were given a Lake Lanier vacation back in 2014 thanks to the Davenport family. Roz recalls the getaway just like it was yesterday. 11 members of Jen’s family attended the vacation timed perfectly for her daughter’s 35th birthday. Roz mentioned that they wanted to do something special for Jen and make her favorite dessert...fondue! Jen’s daughters, Greta & Maren along with their aunt went up to the kitchen, cracked open the fondue machine only to find that it didn’t work. So they then went to the second kitchen but appeared to be out of luck - no fondue machine (as expected). The girls then ventured to the THIRD KITCHEN to find a perfectly working fondue machine and prepared the world’s best birthday dessert for their mom. “Three kitchens, two fondue machines!” Roz laughs. It’s the little (sometimes extravagant) things that make these experiences so memorable.
Although the fondue was exciting, it definitely wasn’t the trip highlight. Jen’s youngest daughter Greta learned how to swim that week. A memory that the whole family will remember forever. It was a much-needed vacation, a getaway, a chance for Jen to live out the meaning of ‘doing today well.’
As I finished up my conversation, I asked her if there was anything else she would like people to know about Jen or the life mantra she left behind.
Roz left me with this, “Do today well. Sometimes I can only do 15 minutes. Then I go for the next 15 minutes. You can’t fix what you did yesterday, you don’t know what is coming tomorrow...but you’ve got today.”
So today, do just that. Slow it all down and do it well.
By Angeline Wellington