The Lake House: A Safe Harbor for the Cancer Community
New non-profit opens its doors to anyone affected by cancer.
Not so long ago, hearing that someone had cancer was enough to strike total despair to one's heart. Now, thanks to advances in technology and awareness, it need not feel like the end of the world.
That still doesn't mean people should have to go it alone, and they won’t have to, thanks to places like The Lake House.
The non-profit’s mission is to provide a network of support to the cancer community, and it opened its doors on May 1 at its Little Mack location, after four years in the making.
“It's a safe harbor to support education and empower those touched by cancer,” says Laura Ortiz, executive director of The Lake House. “The center brings people together to help them.”
Step inside what used to be the Sylvan Learning Center and you’ll discover a cozy environment, with sofas scattered about, art and plants livening up walls and corners, inspirational words painted above doors, all staffed by employees and volunteers who know all too well the fear cancer bleeds into our lives.
They’re there to help women, men, families and children cope with the questions and doubts, and to offer hope by letting people know cancer is neither a lonely disease nor a dead end.
Ortiz and volunteer Heidi Looney are just two of the people offering a respite at Lake House. Looney, an LPC with an MA in counseling, runs the support groups. Both women’s lives have been impacted by cancer.
Ortiz's mother died from breast cancer, and her son was diagnosed with kidney cancer as a very young child. Other family has been affected by it as well. As a teen Ortiz was terrified when her mother got cancer, but now with two survivors in the family, including her son, she says she prefers to think of it as something they’re beating.
Looney's mother survived cancer, but Looney says growing up in rural Marysville she felt alone and isolated. “I remember the absolute fear," she says of that time.
Discovering Gilda's Club was a revelation to her, as it was for Ortiz. Both found a calling as a result.
Ortiz remembers seeing her young son through chemotherapy, and while she was a worried mother, she says seeing room full of cancer survivors is comforting. She worked as a writer for years and says she felt a calling to connect with others going through the same ordeal, to tell a story of cancer, to make it heard, to share happy endings, triumphs, and yes, sometimes tears.
“It seems like it was meant to be,” Ortiz says, of working with Gilda’s Club and now The Lake House.
Whether someone is going through treatment or is in the post-treatment phase, or knows someone going through it, or needs grief counseling, someone who’s been there, or just needs a place to know they’re not alone, Lake House has all kinds of emotional support for those affected by cancer.
Looney and Ortiz say members want to start mentoring programs. “They can better explain (offers answers) to questions and fears,” Ortiz says, adding many have found volunteering to be a healing activity.
People tend to stick around and form this informal family, both ladies agree.
One person who’s stuck around long after his sister passed away from cancer is Michael Radner, who remains active and supports The Lake House. And Ortiz has a picture of his sister, Gilda, on the wall of her office.
Lectures by health experts on treatment and nutrition are offered, and groups meet to knit, chat, take Tai Chi or yoga, discuss books and more. New member orientations are held each week. (Membership is free.)
Looney wants to organize more arts and crafts and expressive activities, to get kids involved, to have family nights and potluck. With art therapy, she says, “people can rest their minds for an hour or two.”
As they build up this new organization, they are working to raise funds -- including a June 18 Treasure Sale -- for programs and awareness and invite people to check them out, to make The Lake House a respite.
“Once people step indoors, they’re family,” says Ortiz.
For more on The Lake House, visit www.milakehouse.org or call 586-777-7761.