"I've seen how the Cruisin for Cancer brings the community together. It encourages us to embrace one another and to no longer be afraid to talk about cancer."
~ Rhonda Griffin, executive director of the Louisville (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce and breast cancer survivor
Rhonda Griffin remembers receiving the letter during the busy month of June in 2009. In addition to her work as a nurse aid at St. Luke Lutheran Community and cake decorator and flower arranger for weddings, her husband Perry was having surgery. She didn't pay much attention to Mercy Cancer Center's request for further testing after her recent mammogram.
"Diane Wofsey, Mercy's breast nurse navigator, called me three times in one week that month, calmly encouraging me to follow up," says Rhonda. "That's what got my attention."
Rhonda followed Diane's advice and underwent an ultrasound and then a biopsy. On June 19, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and on July 31, the cancer was surgically removed — before it had spread to nearby lymph nodes. Under the care of her oncologist, Dina Rooney, MD, Rhonda subsequently underwent 33 radiation treatments.
As of July 31, 2015, Rhonda has been cancer free for six years. She credits Diane's diligence, as well as Mercy Cancer Center's exceptional care, with saving her life. She says the experience also opened her eyes to people in need in her own community, as well as to the programs that exist to help.
Help for Cancer Patients in Need
During her radiation treatments at Mercy, Rhonda met many other cancer patients. Often, she would learn about their stories.
"I quickly realized how fortunate I was to have good health insurance," says Rhonda. "I paid very little out of pocket for my care. Yet, I often would sit next to someone who had very little. Some told me if it wasn't for the cancer center's free tranport service, they would not be able to get to their appointments."
Rhonda recalls when she first learned about the programs Mercy offers to patients in need. She was in a waiting area with an older woman, just recently diagnosed with cancer, and the woman's granddaughter, who was studying to become a nurse. The granddaughter told her grandmother she would quit school to take care of her.
Rhonda says, "They started crying, and then I started crying. After a short time, Diane Wofsey walked into the waiting area and wondered what on earth was going on. It was a blessing to hear Diane assure them that transportation and other services were available."
Interactions like this at the cancer center, together with a love of cars that she and her husband share, sparked the idea of a car show in Louisville to benefit Mercy Cancer Center. Rhonda and Perry organized the first Cruisin for Cancer in 2009 — the same summer she was diagnosed. She says they were motivated by the desire to promote early cancer detection, community resources for cancer patients, and giving locally.
Event Builds Community and Cancer Awareness
Since then, Cruisin for Cancer has grown significantly, recently attracting nearly 250 cars and 1,000 attendees. Mercy also provides health screenings; education materials on heart disease, cancer and more; and a mobile mammogram unit for display.
Over the past six years, the event has raised more than $39,000 from vehicle registrations, raffles, bakes sales, concessions and special donations from people like Louisville resident Kathy Sickles, who donated $1,000 this year in memory of her sister Karen Sickles Warnock, and Deputy Chris Barker with the Stark County Sheriff's Office.
Read the news release: Cancer Survivor's Cruisin for Cancer Fundraising Event Benefits Cancer Patients
Rhonda says Chris approached her two years ago to make a donation in honor of her mother, a Mercy Cancer Center patient until her death. Chris's donation came from a series of small fundraisers within the sheriff's office, including cancer awareness luncheons and T-shirt sales. So far, Chris has raised and donated more than $3,500 to Mercy in conjunction with Cruisin for Cancer. In a letter to Rhonda, Chris wrote:
I just want to thank you for all the hard work you put in with the Cruisin. You are amazing! Mercy Medical did wonders for my mother. You can not imagine how they helped her and helped me. Just picking her at up at home for appointments helped – that I was not missing as much work. I am so blessed knowing because of what you did, raising the money, helped make it possible. At the time they wanted nothing in return. God is so great how he crossed our paths so I can say thank you and help give back.
As a tribute to those who have lost their lives to cancer, Rhonda created a memory banner where people could place photos. She also organized group pictures of cancer survivors and of those who have lost a loved one to cancer.
"I've learned a lot of things and built many friendships through my cancer journey and the Cruisin event," says Rhonda. "You have to take care of yourself, if for no other reason than the people who rely on you. Also, events like Cruisin for Cancer help bring the community together. They encourage us to embrace one another and to no longer be afraid to talk about cancer."
See all our 2015 Cruisin for Cancer photos on Facebook >>