Cancer strikes personal chord; club raises funds, awareness

by Madi Wilson, Staff Reporter

The last thing Chelsea Hamerlinck expected to hear her senior year of high school was that her 43-year-old mother had Stage 3 breast cancer.

Feeling shocked, angry and sad, Hamerlinck didn’t know what to say or do about the situation.

“I tried to help, but really there was not much that I could do but be there to support her, so that is what I did, she said.

Hamerlinck’s mother has been free from cancer for two years, and Hamerlinck, a senior at Simpson College, is now the president of Cancer Awareness Club.

The purpose of the club is to raise awareness of cancer, raise funds to donate to various organizations associated with cancer and to connect members with volunteer opportunities.

Simpson’s Cancer Awareness Club does several events to raise money for cancer organizations including making and selling cookies, selling Beat Cancer T-shirts and inviting kids from Children’s Cancer Connection to come to Storm football games.

Megan Bradley, sophomore and vice president of Cancer Awareness Club, explained what she likes most about being in Cancer Awareness Club.

“I really like the fundraising aspect of it,” Bradley said. “I like raising money to give to different organizations, and I liked hearing reasons why people join the club because this year we had a lot of people who actually have a personal connection to it, which kind of makes it more meaningful.”

In October, the group hosted their third Think Pink annual fundraiser for breast cancer awareness month.

“We sold t-shirts, we had a bake sale and we got donations from all over the Indianola and Des Moines community to make raffle baskets, and we raised over $1,000 for Can Do Cancer,” Hamerlinck said.

Can Do Cancer and Children’s Cancer Connection are the main organizations that Cancer Awareness Club teams up.

Molly Suarez, president and founder of Can Do Cancer, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. Suarez went through 16 chemotherapies and many surgeries over a couple of years.

“I was really surprised the lack of support and resources that were available to local women who are actually going through breast cancer, especially with all of the pink ribbons and pink everything,” Suarez said.

After reflecting back on her experience, Suarez decided to do more research on breast cancer so she could start a website to help women diagnosed with breast cancer prepare for what’s to come.

Cancer Awareness Club also raised money for Children’s Cancer Connection, donating $500 to the organization.

Meridith Swoyer, program services manager for Children’s Cancer Connection, explained what programs the organization puts on.

“The programs that we provide are all about quality of life, so we do summer camps, family outings, trips to athletic events and things that a normal child gets to experience and you kind of miss out on while you’re going through cancer treatment,” Swoyer said.

Children’s Cancer Connection is 100 percent privately funded, has about 40,000 hours of volunteer service every year, serves about 800 families across the state of Iowa and has a staff of six people.

The organization’s biggest programs are summer camps, which are staffed by college-age volunteers.

Swoyer shared how she feels about being involved with Children’s Cancer Connection.

“I am inspired every single day by the kids and the families that I work with,” Swoyer said. “I work with children that are happy and just normal kids and cancer is just kind of a bump in the road for them and their childhood, but they enjoy all things that other kids do.”

Cancer Awareness Club is working on a new event for November called Lung Cancer relay, which will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 21 in Cowles Gym.

This group hopes their events will continue to raise money so they can donate for a good cause. Students who are interested in being involved with the organization should contact Hamerlinck or attend a meeting on Wednesday at 8 p.m in Cowles Room 171.