OCEAN CITY – For the past six years, the Wellness Community of Delmarva has supported thousands of cancer survivors on the Eastern Shore, helping those affected by providing two vital needs – support and hope.
Cancer support, education and hope are the building blocks of the Wellness Community of Delmarva. According to Executive Director Joan Mulvaney, the Wellness Community is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of people affected by cancer. Mulvaney explained that a person diagnosed with cancer is not the only one affected. The scope expands much further to friends, family and loved ones. One of the goals of the Wellness Community is to provide support, education and hope to all of those affected, from survivors to loved ones.
“We call everyone a survivor,” Mulvaney said, explaining that whether someone has been diagnosed five minutes ago or has been cancer free for five years, they are considered a cancer survivor.
Mulvaney explained that the moment a diagnosis is heard, everything changes.
“It can have a profound affect on your quality of life,” she said. “A cancer diagnosis changes your life forever.”
The Wellness Community of Delmarva is one of 21 non-profit chapters of the national organization. With its headquarters in Salisbury and sub-branches in Berlin and Easton, the Wellness Community of Delmarva provides free programs for Worcester, Wicomico and Talbot counties.
“We help create a community of people affected by cancer,” Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney explained the Delmarva chapter essentially began with a woman named Clare Weaver, a proud mother of a toddler and was pregnant with her second child when she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. She was only 32 years old. Doctors advised her to abort her pregnancy in order to save her own life. Scared and devastated, she made the decision to keep her child and fight for both of their lives.
The Salisbury Junior Service League, along with a group of women who were also fighting cancer, rallied around Weaver, helping her with daily needs and supplying her with hope and support. Weaver gave birth to a healthy baby and grew stronger with the help of treatments and her support group. As she got better, Weaver realized that the Eastern Shore, an area with a high rate of cancer, needed an organized support group that could provide education and hope. Together, Weaver and her group of supporters found the Wellness Community, receiving a charter in 1998 and becoming the first rural chapter of the Wellness Community. With the help of generous donations from the Guerrieri family and Patricia Hazel, the Wellness Community of Delmarva opened its doors in 2001.
“For some people, we have really become a life-changing institution,” Mulvaney said.
The Wellness Community ranges in support from basic information for callers inquiring about different types of cancers to programs and support groups offered weekly. The programs focus on support groups, stress reduction, education and social events.
“We provide support not therapy,” Mulvaney said. “Only a cancer survivor knows what it’s like to walk in those shoes.”
Mulvaney explained that cancer survivors undergo stresses, thoughts and fears that are unique. As a result, cancer survivors benefit from surrounding themselves with other people who have experienced or are experiencing the same thoughts and emotions.
Social events are another way for survivors and loved ones to interact and let loose.
“One of our social events is the joke fest. Laughter is great for the immune system,” Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney said the organization’s growth has taken off since its inception.
“We have grown tremendously in the past five years that I’ve been here,” Mulvaney said, adding it served 948 people just last year.
According to Mulvaney, the organization hopes to expand its Worcester County program and hopes to have its own building one day that could function as a hub for the county community.
Mulvaney said the organization is pivotal in a rural area like the Eastern Shore.
“It’s so worthwhile. So many people have been affected by cancer,” Mulvaney said. “It’s a gift to our community from our donors and from our volunteers.”