The Marquarts and the Woods – BE Committed

Jim and Keri

Be Committed. The meaning ascribed to these two words can vary a great deal from person to person. In times when health and circumstances are beyond one’s control – as is often the case for young adults experiencing cancer – we are inspired by those who take these words seriously. They look beyond themselves, they get comfortable with discomfort, and they just keep showing up.

At the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, we are honored and humbled to partner with these types of people every day. Sometimes we even get to interact with an entire community of truly committed people – this is the case in a small town, three hours away from UCF headquarters, in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Each fall for the past four years, a small group of UCF staff has piled into the car and made the trek up Route 83, gone over the river and through the woods, and arrived at the “Back Mountain” of Luzerne County, PA – more specifically, at the home of Jim and Keri Wood for Screw Cancer Brew Hope PA.

It all started because of the Woods’ natural inclination as 

Marjorie and Brian

helpers. This bent prompted them, in 2013, to introduce long-time friend Olivia Marquart – a recent college graduate newly diagnosed with synovial sarcoma – and her family to Brian Satola, Chief Operating Officer at UCF, where Jim serves on the Board of Directors. The relationship, and ultimately, the community that developed as a result of this introduction, soon made the distance between the Back Mountain and Baltimore seem inconsequential.

The Woods have always been committed to having a good time, hosting a big end-of-summer party at their home each year. Upon Olivia’s diagnosis, they saw a need and felt compelled to leverage this event into something more meaningful. They partnered with Olivia’s mother, Marjorie, and sister and brother-in-law, Samantha and Jamie, and committed to turning the lighthearted party into Screw Cancer Brew Hope PA: an awareness-building opportunity and fundraiser for UCF.

 

Samantha on Key 2 Keys

Both the extent and impact of this commitment are impossible to quantify. For four years in a row, this small group and their extended families and friends have spent countless hours on event planning and execution – spreading the word across the neighboring towns, collecting donations for silent auction items, negotiating with vendors, setting up and tearing down decorations – all toward the goals of teaching their local community to be ambassadors of the knowledge that young adults are not immune from cancer, and giving that community a tangible way to support Olivia and family throughout her ups and downs with cancer.

Through their commitment to Screw Cancer Brew Hope, the Marquarts and Woods have come together to donate and raise more than $175,000 for the Ulman Cancer Fund. Their commitment to building relationships has decreased the alienation Olivia has felt, and created stronger connections throughout their community. It has enabled the Ulman

 

Cancer Fund to expand the programs through which we fulfill our mission of creating communities of support for young adults, and their families, facing cancer.

Marjorie, Olivia, and Keri

Both Olivia and Samantha have been able to extend their communities beyond the Back Mountain through UCF’s Key to Keys program. Each sister has participated in the experience, driving or bicycling to Key West with a group of strangers who, over eight days and 1,200 miles, become family. They have created cherished memories of riding into Key West and sharing dedications with their teams, which empower them when recalled on tough days. Through Key to Keys, they have each committed to supporting their newfound friends, and have received invaluable companionship and encouragement back in return.

Margaret Mead is often quoted as having said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” At UCF, we are so grateful for this small group of committed people, and we have no doubt that they will change the world for countless young adults well into the future.

 

Donate to Be Day https://tinyurl.com/y8btb4mz

Cristal’s Story – BE Courageous

Meet Cristal! Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Cristal is a spunky, resilient and big-hearted, daughter, sister, student and inspiration to many.

Cristal’s cancer story began during a college semester abroad in Spain. In the middle of her experience, she began to experience intense pain in her abdomen. She found a local doctor who told her that she needed to go home immediately. When she returned home, Cristal learned she had stage 3 Ewing Sarcoma – a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer. She was pulled away from her peer group, and put through an aggressive treatment that included 17 rounds of chemotherapy, 6 weeks of daily radiation, a major tumor debulking surgery and a lot of time spent in the hospital due to cancer treatment and surgical complications such as a bowel obstruction. It was a quick and scary switch from frolicking the streets of Salamanca, Spain to spending time in a hospital bed fighting for her life.

Throughout this entire process, Cristal never lost sight of her goal of graduating. With an incredible amount of resilience and determination, along with the support of her university, family and friends, she returned to school and graduated a year later, becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree!

Once she was given a clean bill of health, Cristal became determined to reclaim her body after her Cancer experience. She found out about UCF’s Cancer to 5K program – a free 12-week training program for cancer survivors.  Given the opportunity to meet and train with other survivors, Cristal flourished and showed the world that she not only kicked cancer’s butt, but could also run a 5K!

Upon crossing the finish line, Cristal met a member of the UCF staff who suggested she look into the 4K for Cancer program and bike across the country. She initially thought this was inconceivable, but by that June, Cristal had fundraised more than $4,500 for the Ulman Cancer Fund, was well-trained, and ready to start her journey.  With 18 strangers, she hit the road – on her bike – heading out across the United States to support other young adults with cancer.

Cristal’s 4K journey was not an easy one, but it was undoubtedly incredible. She struggled in the beginning, learning how to push her body in a manageable way and how to make friends with these strangers who didn’t know her story yet. Having been isolated from friends and classmates during the two years she was in treatment, Cristal had become apprehensive about interacting with people in her own age group. Her 4K team became a supportive community that allowed Cristal to, in her own words, “catch up” with her peers.

Cristal was tested by times of frustration and challenge, but when asked why she was biking across the country, she would always say the same thing; to show other young adults with cancer that something like this is possible. You can survive and you can take your life back.

Throughout those 70 days, Cristal grew in a multitude of ways. She became an incredibly strong rider. She learned that she had to be patient with her body, but that she could in fact do this. She became one of the fastest riders on the team. She even gained the nickname “Hill Doctor” due to her awesome ability to conquer steep hills at impressive speeds. Even more incredible, however, was how Cristal changed as a person. She began opening up about her story and her struggles in ways she hadn’t done before.

While riding on the long roads of Idaho or Nebraska she would tell her teammates about what she went through and the people she met in the hospital and support groups, who inspired her to fight back against cancer. Each day, she dedicated her ride to a long list of people, including those who had fought cancer, were still fighting, or who had lost their battle. She created lasting bonds with her team, who supported and leaned on each other every second of their journey. One day of the ride, each member of the team surprised Cristal by dedicating their day to her.

While on the 4K, Cristal celebrated one year of being cancer free – her “Cancer-versary” as she called it. It is a testament to her persistence and strength that she was conquering this journey less than a year out of treatment. Throughout the 70 days of the 4K for Cancer, Cristal laughed and cried, fixed flat tires, and danced her way up hills.  On August 12th, she rode across the Golden Gate Bridge next to 18 of her best friends, officially completing her 4,000 mile journey from coast to coast.

The programs of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults helped Cristal to reboot her life after cancer, changing her perspective and connecting her with a community of support that became her family.

Donate to Be Day https://tinyurl.com/y8btb4mz

Betsy’s Story – BE Human

For twenty years, volunteers have been critical to UCF’s ability to carry out our mission. Our committed volunteers do yardwork or prepare meals for patients we serve, run alongside cancer survivors completing their first 5K race, plan fundraising events – really, they do whatever it takes to ensure that we continue to move closer and closer to a world where no young adult faces cancer alone!

Betsy Serp has become a one-of-a-kind volunteer whose friends invited her to serve alongside them at the UCF Races several years ago. After seeing cancer survivors cross the finish line and achieve feats they didn’t think possible, Betsy was hooked! She now sacrifices her retirement leisure time and shares her top-notch project management skills to help us as a volunteer Program Coordinator for the UCF House.

Betsy is no stranger to the housing industry; she worked in the mortgage business for many years, and collaborates with her husband, Ed, on his weekend home improvement business.  So when Betsy told us that she had decided to take early retirement and would have some free time, we quickly asked her to contribute some of that time toward the UCF House!

In her volunteer role, Betsy spends the equivalent of 1-2 days per week making sure planning and construction progress smoothly. She manages communication between our general contractor, our interior designer (UCF Founder Diana Ulman), individuals and companies who have donated items for the house, and UCF full-time staff. Betsy’s work will ensure that we meet requirements set by the Maryland Historic Trust and that the project qualifies for LEED certification.

Betsy gives so generously of her time because she is inspired by the vision of young adults having a place to live alongside new friends who are going through something similar. She is confident that the UCF House will not only be a physical structure, but that it will be the framework around a strong support system for everybody who walks through its doors – patients, family, friends, and community members.

Betsy – from all of us at UCF, thank you for all you do!