When the C-word threatens to overwhelm, ‘Friends’ help out
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN”Area residents unexpectedly confronted with the dreaded “C” word ” meaning a diagnosis of cancer ” often find themselves adrift in a sea of emotions and doubts.
Family and friends draw close, the medical profession does its thing, and somehow life rolls on despite the shattering effect that one word can bring.
And stepping up to assist with some of the mundane tasks of living that can suddenly seem overwhelming, or at least unmanageable given everything else that’s going on, is a volunteer support organization called Your Friends For Life.
The group’s volunteer founder and organizer, Diana Welter, has been doing this work for several years, including a stint as manager of the Aspen Valley Hospital’s cancer-patient support group, Valley Angels. She said that in 2006 her work won accolades from Pitkin County and Aspen Magazine, when it named her at one of the area’s top 10 volunteers. She said she got involved in the work after a sister-in-law died of cancer and she realized that there were many ways in which the families of patients need help and support.
“It’s just having somebody do different errands,” she said, adding, “We customize it to each family” depending on what is needed and how much a volunteer can commit to.
For example, local property manager and handyman Blake Leonard started volunteering for Your Friends after reading about it in a letter to the editor submitted by Welter earlier this year, asking volunteers to step forward.
“I think it’s easy to help people,” explained Leonard. “I think sometimes, because we live in the land of the very wealthy, we don’t help people because we’re just trying to get by.”
He knew one of Welter’s clients, Reggie Barbour, from Barbour’s days as a chef at Boogie’s Diner before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January. Leonard has been helping Barbour out for several months, doing chores and errands.
“Knowing what Reggie’s going through, I think that little things are big things,” Leonard remarked about Your Friends work.
“They’re always around in case you need them for support,” noted Barbour, adding that Welter “certainly is a wonderful lady.” He said that Welter, in addition to helping out with local needs, has traveled to Denver with Barbour’s wife, Mary, to offer additional support while Reggie underwent treatment.
Welter, 52, makes her living as a private elder-care practitioner and has been working on her own in the cancer-support field since early 2007. That was when she formed Your Friends For Life and attached it to the 24 Hours of Aspen Foundation as a way to achieve nonprofit status. She is working on setting up Your Friends as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit on its own.
In the meantime, she has been working with a core of about 56 volunteers, most of whom have been affected by cancer in one way or another. Their work is in assisting roughly 27 families and individuals from Aspen to Rifle, doing everything from running errands to grocery shopping, helping out with lawn care and gardening duties or shoveling snow; “Just the many chores that you have to do, that don’t go away. It gives the family a break.”
The local cancer support community, she explained, has a way of hearing about a need and fulfilling it.
For example, she recently received a donation of firewood from a man whose family had been touched by cancer, and who knew she was searching for a way to help a family deal with the high costs of winter heating.
“It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know someone who has cancer,” she remarked about the incidence of cancer in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Welter recalled that a visiting lecturer from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, speaking at the Given Institute in Aspen last year, cited statistics showing that not even half the people who are likely to be diagnosed with cancer in the near future even realize they are at risk. Which, she predicted, means that cancer incidence will continue to climb, even as national studies show that deaths due to certain kinds of cancer may be diminishing.
The patients who accept the help of Your Friends, she said, come to her. She never goes out to try to drum up business.
“It’s their decision,” she said. “They can stop at any time” and ask that the volunteers not come back.
And, she said, while “a lot do say, ‘no,’ initially. They think they can do it themselves.” But most change their minds and accept the help gladly, she said.
“They’re just so overwhelmed, they don’t know what they need,” she said of patients and their families.
With a relatively slender budget, perhaps $20,000, Welter said she depends on grants and gifts that allow Your Friends to offer activities such as Putt-Putt miniature golf outings, movies and other, more esoteric pursuits.
For example, she said, several of those associated with Your Friends were recently treated to belly dancing lessons at the Woody Creek Community Center, courtesy of long time local Ann Owsley.
“It was hilarious,” Welter recalled, ” the funniest hour of laughter,” which she said was beneficial to all concerned.
Welter said the Aspen Eagles Club is planning a fund-raising car wash for three Sundays in a row ” May 4, May 11 and May 18 ” at the club’s parking lot on South Spring Street. The washing will be done between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and all proceeds will go to You Friends For Life.
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