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Local seeks help for women with cancer

Women of Wonder supports those in last stage of illness


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Carolyn Hammett, above right, the director of Women of Wonder, prepares for takeoff on a Harley Davidson.Death is one thing Carolyn Hammett says she knows how to deal with really well. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1997 and had a full hysterectomy, and then in 2006 was told she had stage-four lung and thyroid cancer.

“When they told me I had stage-four cancer, I didn’t even know what that meant. I asked how many stages there are and the answer is four. They told me I had one year to live, but here I am,” says Hammett, a Milwaukie resident.

After treatment, her cancer stabilized for awhile, but this past summer the cancer worsened, and she now is facing a higher-dose series of radiation treatments.

Through it all, Hammett is still thinking about the future, but not just her personal future. Instead she is focusing her energy on letting the community know there are women with stage-four cancer who need help.

Support group forms

For seven years, Hammett has been a member of an all-female support group, Making Today Count, consisting of women diagnosed with stage-four cancer, which meets every Wednesday at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.

“We get a sense of a whole room of people who know what you are feeling. We are all living under a death sentence,” she says.

About three years ago, she and Kari Misgades, another member, started treating each other to breakfast out. Soon other members of the support group asked to be included.

“Then people began to not be able to join us because they couldn’t afford to. Any extra money you have goes away when you have stage-four cancer,” Hammett says.

So she and Misgades founded WOW, Women of Wonder, a separate organization from the Providence St. Vincent group, “to support women with stage-four cancer and to help them live the most full life they can. And it’s also to have fun. We allow them to get out from under the umbrella of cancer,” Hammett says.

They set out to raise funds to pay for outings for the women in WOW, or to help their families with meals and other expenses.

They then chose to become an outreach ministry, supported by Hammett’s church, University Park United Methodist Church in Northeast Portland, so that the church’s bookkeeper could handle all the donations and keep records of the money coming in and going out.

“The church covers our liability when we go on trips, and we are covered under their insurance. The church does get a portion of our funds, but this is a fabulous way for people to get a tax deduction,” Hammett says, noting that WOW is independent of church rules.

“Our funding comes completely by word of mouth, and any of the various fund-raising events during the year. WOW pays for any of the women who cannot afford to participate,” she says.

Over the last couple of years, the group has taken the train to Seattle, gone horseback riding at the coast, enjoyed high tea at Lady Di in Lake Oswego, taken an excursion on the Mount Hood Railroad, and more.

Gift-card drive underway

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Pam Bisson, left, and Carolyn Hammett display a poster with photos of WOW events, and a scrapbook depicting past WOW members.Hammett has experienced a number of losses over the years, including WOW co-founder Misgades, who died in 2011. She also has lost more than 70 friends who were part of the Providence St. Vincent support group.

Her concern now is to keep WOW going, while she undergoes a series of treatments for her own cancer.

“My hope is somebody who has the ability and energy can take over running WOW,” she says.

WOW has 20 members, most of whom have cancer, but anyone with a connection to someone with stage-four cancer can be a member, as well.

“We would like more members. Our goal is to let people know we are here and to let women with stage-four cancer know we are here for them,” Hammett says.

WOW is holding a gift-card drive, hoping to collect cards to give members so they can purchase Christmas presents. Gift cards can be sent to the church or to Hammett.

Visa gift cards are the most versatile, she says, adding that even a $5 card to Subway is much appreciated. Cash donations must be sent to the church to go through the bookkeeper there, Hammett says.

Another way to help the group is through donations of time or services, she says, noting that two pilots in the community have given plane rides to WOW members, and a Harley-Davidson group took some of the women on motorcycle rides.

Hammett invites anyone to send her a letter, telling what they might want to do to help WOW members. Salons might consider donating manicure and pedicure services or haircuts, for example.

Group supporters

Last January, Hammett’s friend Pam Bisson became a WOW board member, and although she works as a marketing assistant in financial planning, finds time to volunteer with the group.

“She has always been a constant supporter,” Hammett says, adding that Bisson is one of two people who accompanies her to every doctor appointment.

One of her first activities with the group was the train ride to Seattle, where Bisson pushed a woman in a wheelchair around Pike Place Market, and then treated the entire group of eight women to lunch on the waterfront.

“They are a really fun group, and what they are going through puts everything into perspective,” Bisson says.

The whole purpose of WOW is to alleviate the stress and pressure of having cancer, and Hammett and Bisson know that the stress has an impact on family members as well.

“We like to include family in our activities, so they can see us all out having fun,” Hammett says.

Bisson adds, “It helps them feel normal in an abnormal time, when they are thrust into the medical world.”

Cash and gift card donations are crucial to WOW members, “because medications cost so much at a time when their ability to work or cook meals goes away,” Bisson says.

Hammett adds, “We want to do things that bring a little joy into their lives.”