Expert Connexions: Helping Cancer Patients and Survivors During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Expert Connexions Covid-19

In this virtual chat, Beth Peck, Executive Director of Project Koru talks about how the nonprofit is handling the Coronavirus pandemic and how the community can help cancer patients and survivors.

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Julie: Good afternoon. Welcome to our special Facebook live series called Expert Connexions where we are interviewing experts with information and insights to help all of us during this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m Julie Holton, I’m the Founder and Principal Strategist of mConnexions Marketing Agency. We are seeing some incredible things happening in our community. We are seeing businesses step up to help other businesses, people working hard to make sure that others are fed and their needs met. There are so many positive things happening, but we also know that this is a really difficult time. This is not easy. How you’re doing can sometimes feel like it changes by the hour, so we at mConnexions are here to help. We are connecting our community to experts with knowledge and resources to share and I am so excited to bring you our next guest today. Beth Peck is the Executive Director of Project Koru. Beth welcome, thanks for joining us.

Beth: Hi thanks so much for having me. Hi everybody.

Julie: Okay Beth, so, first of all, we have to tell everyone what is project Koru. Tell us about your nonprofit.

Beth: Absolutely, Project Koru is an amazing organization. We are a national organization and our mission is to enrich the quality of lives for young adult cancer survivors and as a way to move forward after cancer using adventure in the outdoors.

Julie: Okay adventure in the outdoors. You put on some really cool programming that when there’s not a pandemic going on. Tell us what those adventures are normally like and tell us about some of the camps that you put on.

Beth: Absolutely so our programmatic portfolio consists of what we call the core continuum. Our cornerstone program is called Camp Koru so we purposefully and very intentionally take young adult cancer survivors sort of out of their element, out of their daily lives that are filled with stress and anxiety, and we take them to remote locations and they spend a week with people their same age that are going through what they’re going through and we throw in a lot of fun outdoor adventure as a way to really kind of test yourselves, build community, create empowerment amongst your peers and really just get away and be able to dive deeper into your survivorship journey and post-cancer.

Julie: It’s such a cool program, Beth. I’ve been a huge fan for years and I know you got involved first with project Koru, now you’re the executive director, but you got involved first because of your own cancer journey. Tell us a little bit about your personal story.

Beth: Absolutely. It feels like a whole lifetime ago. In 2016 I was diagnosed with stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer. I had a genetic mutation that I learned of, it’s a very aggressive form of breast cancer. I was 32 years old at the time and was a single mom to two little kids. It was a very intense year of treatment chemo, radiation, multiple surgeries, and it just really left me feeling completely depleted, completely lost, I didn’t know what kind of my new normal was supposed to look like. I wasn’t feeling great even though I had beat cancer I was still really scared living in constant fear and anxiety and it was really going away. I actually went to a camp Koru, project Koru, camp in Maui and was greeted right off the plane by some amazing staff. I got to meet my fellow campers and it was really true in that week of time that pushed me forward and gave me a sense of purpose and gave me the time and space to mentally kind of wrap my head around what I had just been through the past year. So I really attribute project Koru to being such a huge part of who I am today. So it’s just so exciting to be leading the organization now, it just means so much to me.

Julie: And I think most of our viewers watching know of someone unfortunately at this point the numbers are there we know of someone who’s gone through a cancer journey or someone you know you yourself you know our audience you might be relating to what Beth is saying and so certainly these camp provide an opportunity to bring people together who can relate to one another, go through this group therapy together, as well as really push their bodies to the limit and exploring some of these you know outdoor adventures. Beth, I want to talk about of course the topic that’s really top of mind for everyone right now, which is the coronavirus. You know I want to hear from you, how is your community being impacted particularly you know the young adult, the cancer community.

Beth: Absolutely and so the term young adult in the cancer world really talks about the age group from age 20 to 39. It’s this really underserved, very unique section, of the greater cancer population that has their own really unique challenges. They could be just you know out of college starting their first job, it could be just starting families, getting married, you know dealing with financial hardship because they don’t have enough of a nest egg to really be able to front the money for treatments and it’s just this really unique group of people and there are about eighty thousand young adults in that age range that are diagnosed with cancer at cancer every year. That’s a large number of people. They are faced with challenges already such as isolation, fear of recurrence, just general anxiety. Adding this new coronavirus pandemic to all of that it’s just really heightening all of these major challenges that they already face and we really recognize that at Project Koru and there was this moment all the staff and board came together and we decided we had to actually cancel some of our spring programmings that we had coming up because this population because of all the treatment they’ve been through. We’re a very immune-deficient population and so we have to be extra careful and extra kind of high alert when it comes to isolation. We didn’t want to put anybody at risk, so we had to cancel our programming. So the board and the staff came together and it was just this really pivotal moment of how can we move forward. The whole purpose of our organization is to create this physical community to bring people together in a physical environment, to do physical things. So what does that look like in the age of coronavirus and it was unanimous we all said no we’re not just going to sit back and wait until things go back to normal we are going to completely pivot the work that we do and we have created a whole new program called Koru communities, where we are really living out our mission, our core values, in the vision that we have for the cancer world. We’re living all of that out through our virtual programs. So we’ve all been working so hard to create all these programs that are virtual, that are super accessible to the young adult cancer population just to really be that organization that’s there during this very isolated time where anxiety is high for any average person. Imagine what it feels like to be a cancer survivor, just terrified that if you leave your house you could get this virus and it could really affect you because you’re at high risk already. We’re bringing all of these people together. We are creating community with them just across the nation virtually it’s so amazing to watch.

Julie: It sounds amazing Beth because you know what I’m hearing you say and I can relate to you and I think our audience can relate to in so many ways is that first of all we have a group of people who are you know a large group of people who are dealing already with the mental health issues that come with the mental health, the physical health, the emotional health, you know that all comes with a cancer diagnosis and like you were saying even when you were talking about your own story even when you get through those treatments there’s still a lot that you have to deal with and that you’re going through and so to have this community that already has such high levels of stress and really that need for connection and need community, then to have on top of it as we all know are facing this big scary unknown factor. I think it’s just really incredible what you’re doing. As you said pivot that’s such a big word in business and in the nonprofit world. I think we’re seeing a lot of businesses, a lot of organizations, really stretch that to the max right now and pivot in big ways which you have done absolutely. To take this really important physical you know the in-person connection that you have and now turn it into a virtual connection. I’d love to hear more about this and we have a comment here too. This is a great comment so Stephanie asks, tell us more about these virtual programs and is there anything that we can do to support them on the outside? Great question.

Beth: Great question. Thank you for asking Stephanie, so the virtual programming it’s still every day that goes by we’re still building it up and building it up, but so something that is such a huge part of our camps is every night we have what we call campfire and it is a very sacred time, it’s a sacred place. Everybody at camp is altogether even our ancillary staff, our chefs and our doctors that are there and it is just a time meant for deep questioning, digging into yourself, really kind of drawing out your fears from the day or your positive things that happen that day and to really kind of dig into some real issues surrounding cancer survivors and we have figured out a way to do virtual campfires. We’ll be doing them every week for our campers that have already been to camp and will hope to expand that out to the greater young adult cancer community as well. It’s something that’s just so cherished once you go to camp you never forget that campfire time and for us to be able to hold that space for our cancer survivors right now and have that as one of our key programs as part of Koru communities is really important to us. It really is who we are and we’re mixing in we have wellness guides, we have volunteer wellness guides, that are certified counselors or social workers that attend all of our programs. They’re now volunteering their time, they’re leading mindful meditation exercises and you know just kind of talks about fears and how to you know get out of an isolation slump and then mixed in something that we also hold really close to our hearts at Project Koru is we really are for survivors by survivors so though the staff and volunteers can step in and we sort of facilitate these things, it’s really about empowering the survivors to really kind of show off their skill sets and as they’re figuring out who they are post-cancer, really kind of celebrating that. So we have a lot of our camp alumni that are teaching yoga classes as part of our virtual programming or we actually have one counselor who is now a guide at the national parks and so she’s going to come on and do a big kind of program around that. So we’re really able to throw in all different kinds of things because we have such a diverse and frankly amazing camp alumni support system really.

Julie: It sounds like it. This sounds incredible. So I want to talk also that because of course the focus for you is on your constituents, on your members, on the cancer community, and those that you serve, but I want to also talk a little bit about your organization in Project Koru because I know like all nonprofits you really depend on the resources and so I you know I’d like to hear you know, how are things running right now? How are your resources and have there been any major changes? I mean you’ve had to cancel all of your camps. So what does that look like for you as you start to plan out the rest of this year?

Beth: Yeah I mean just for the nonprofit world as a whole, I mean similar to small businesses it’s a really scary time financially right now. I mean we are completely philanthropic based and when the economy is not well, people aren’t giving as much. They just aren’t simply able to. So we are of course being still focused on securing resources for the future, for our own stability within the organization. We are recognizing that it’s a time to support everybody out there, even our supporters. So we want to support the people and have supported us for so long and we want to check in on them, make sure they’re doing ok, see if they need anything. I mean it’s really this reciprocal relationship with us. All of our donors and supporters just really love who we are and what we do and yes we will rely on their continued support in order to remain a strong nonprofit, but we know that they’re going through tough times too and that when they are financially able to they will continue to support our organization. We’re lucky enough that it’s really important and I think probably a lot of nonprofits are sort of realizing this right now, the importance of always having a really strong financial cushion even in the best of times because now we’re in the worst of times and it is so important to have that cushion ahead of time. I think a lot of smaller nonprofits are realizing that right now and we’re lucky enough that you know we have a little bit of a cushion; we can continue supporting our survivors. We still have a lot of plans for fundraising events and things in the future. You know even pivoting those and doing some virtual fundraisers. You know we just ask the people that love us to give in any small way that they can. We realize it may not be as big as they’ve been able to in the past and maybe it’s through volunteering. We have so many of our supporters that have reached out better-writing letters of encouragement to survivors that are in isolation because they’re high-risk and you know offering up their zoom accounts so that we can use them for programming and you know people are coming out saying well I have this skill set let me help. So though it’s not just about financial resources our support group is strong and we have all the faith in the world that we’re going to make it through this and hope to bring on some new supporters in the process.

Julie: Well your resilience really shines through for certain with just how much you’ve been able to continue to provide your community during this time. We’ve got some great comments coming in. For the survivors, by the survivors, Stephanie points out. It is beautiful and I know that that’s something that you all at project Koru really live out each and every day and so thank you for taking the time. I want to make sure for those that are watching that would like to support you or like to learn more about your programs and about your community, support your online communities that you’re offering right now. What’s the best way to connect with you and to learn more?

Beth: Sure you can always shoot me an email. My email is very easy to remember it’s [email protected]. We’re on Facebook, Instagram, you can shoot me a message, a DM, anyway that you want to reach out, we are there and we would love any help, support, thoughts, cheerleading, that you want to offer us so please reach out.

Julie: Excellent Beth thank you so much for taking the time to join us today and for you and for any of our nonprofits that are tuning in to watch this, we have had a number of experts who have shared about resources available for nonprofits, in addition to small businesses, so certainly those of you who are watching feel free to take a look at some of those videos that we have offered. Beth thank you again for taking the time today to talk with us.

Beth: Thank you so much for having me.

Julie: Alright so we have more programs coming for you next week. Again you can join us on Tuesday and Thursday. We’re going to do three interviews each day at 11 a.m. Eastern, 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock each day. We are working now on our team to finalize that lineup for you. I can tell you we’re going to have an attorney talking about SBA loans, we’re going to have the Lansing Chamber of Commerce talking about resources available for small businesses, we will have more in the nonprofit world, we will be talking to ePifany now’s founder, Bob Hoffman. So a lot more coming up for you next week. If you have topics you would like us to cover, feel free to shoot us an email, send us a direct message on Facebook, you can email me directly [email protected]. Thank you all. Stay healthy, stay safe and we will see you back here next week.




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