Connecting the Dots:  Cancer Connection a bastion of free care and compassion

Published: 9/16/2022 2:07:36 PM
Modified: 9/16/2022 2:07:07 PM

From the 1920s through the 1970s, Mentor, Ohio was recognized as the Rose Capital of the Nation. I grew up in Mentor in the 50s. Mentor is also the site of the James A. Garfield National Historic Site, home of the 20th president of the United States. It includes the first presidential library established in the United States.

Garfield is quoted as saying “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” This is my segue into the word “free.”

The word “free” is one of the most powerful words in the English language. Its significance in marketing is one that cannot be ignored due to the extensive psychological appeal attached to the word.

There are three definitions of the word “free” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. I want to write about the first definition: “not costing or charging anything.”

The phrase “there’s no free lunch” means you don’t get something for nothing.

What one receives “for free” is paid for in another way. The term comes from a time in the 19th century in which taverns provided a free lunch to drinkers. By providing a cheap lunch of perhaps boiled eggs and peanuts, the bartenders kept paying patrons in their establishments longer, quaffing profitable alcoholic beverages.

Do you really think that “buy one, get one free” meets the Merriam-Webster definition of free? Or “order now and get two widgets for the price of one for $19.95 on cable TV? The bottom line, as they say in business schools, is that “free” seduces consumers looking for good deals. And who isn’t looking for a good deals in today’s world of ever-increasing prices?

One industry that never uses the word “free” is health care. It’s either insurance or cash for care and limited compassion.

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, that truth makes you miserable. In my 20 years of experience seeking compassionate care for cancer, I found only one place where every single program and service is free — meaning not costing anything.

That place is Cancer Connection, the non-profit founded 22 years ago in Northampton by Jackie Walker and Debra Orgera. That place that got me through my first bout with cancer in 2002.

Free services like reflexology and oncology massage services. Physical programs like adaptive cycling, independent cycling, kayaking, and canoeing.

Free writing workshops that invites participants to put words to what they are experiencing and feeling.

Free support groups for breast cancer, ovarian and gynecological cancers, men living with cancer — all cancers.

As with so many other service organizations, Cancer Connection’s support groups continued to meet by telephone or on the internet during the pandemic. These groups are slowly returning to in-person gatherings as, hopefully, the COVID-19 impacts continue to lessen.

They are all free. Free to anyone diagnosed with cancer, their families and caregivers. There is no charge for anything.

And here’s the kicker. Cancer Connection does not receive any government support. Nor funding from the American Cancer Society or any other national cancer support organization.

Cancer Connection is enabled to provide these free programs and services because of hundreds of individual donations. And because of unique fundraising events such as WRSI radio personality Monte Belmonte’s 10 years of “Camp-Out” campaigns in his tent in the winter on the Old Courthouse lawn in Northampton raising $100,000 in 2016. He then came in from the cold switching from a parka to a tuxedo. He renamed his annual fundraiser to the “Cancer Connection Camp-IN” inside Hotel Northampton. Belmonte continues to broadcast live during these annual fundraising events.

Cancer Connection also earns a major chunk of its operating expenses from its Thrift Store at 375 South Street in Northampton. The thrift store has been cited as the best-used clothing store by the Valley Advocate six times in the seven years since it opened.

Thousands of people diagnosed with one kind of cancer or another have received comfort, companionship, medical information, physical and spiritual support over the past 22 years at Cancer Connection.

How in the world can one possibly find a way to thank Cancer Connection for this wealth of free care and compassion?

Four of us — all cancer survivors — found a way. It is a stunning, 132-page book of poetry and images entitled “Words to Live By.” Featuring poems and prose by 50 local and nationally acclaimed writers, each enhanced by a stunning photograph from nature. It was a free launch for Cancer Connection that will boost its income stream.

“Connecting the Dots” is published every other Saturday in the Recorder. Readers interested in “Words to Live By” can purchase the book at Comments are invited at


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