Coping with cancer can be tough, but you don’t have to face it alone.
Bras for the Cause photos by Nicole Hamel
Cancer not only indiscriminately attacks your body, but every other part of your life, which is where organizations like the Greater Clermont Cancer Foundation (GCCF) prove beneficial.
Just ask Clermont’s Oscar Martinez, 62, whose life was turned upside down a couple of years ago by a stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis following a visit to the hospital because he “just wasn’t feeling good.”
“I tried to be as optimistic as possible through it all, but cancer, it’s tough,” Oscar says, adding that it would have been an even tougher journey to endure without help from nurses and doctors, his friends, family, and people from the GCCF he met along the way.
At the hospital ER in October 2018, Oscar found out he was septic, and later, that he had cancer. A few days after that, he underwent a necessary surgery. For two years, he has had chemotherapy treatments, and most recently, a colostomy reversal. Today he is cancer free.
Oscar kept working through his ordeal, but he struggled financially. He credits the GCCF for helping him hang onto some very important things – his home of 28 years he’d nearly paid off and his sanity.
“I’m on third base coming towards home now; I am blessed every day. But it was a stressful and interesting journey. You work your whole life for the things you have, and you can lose everything because cancer just takes over everything,” Oscar says, explaining that GCCF volunteers have remained in contact with him throughout his care to ensure his needs are being met.
The GCCF, a non-profit foundation whose sole mission it is to support the citizens of South Lake County as they cope with emotional and financial aspects of dealing with cancer, was founded in 2004 by Phyllis Hutcheson and her husband Vic, now deceased.
The couple moved to Florida because Vic’s sister had cancer. In dealing with her doctors and various struggles they recognized the need for places people could turn to for help.
“Most of the time after a cancer diagnosis, if you don’t know the right questions to ask, you don’t get the answers you need. That’s where our support groups, informational centers and mentors come into play,” says Kay Simpson, a longtime volunteer, board member (treasurer) and advocate.
Kay continues, “We’re not able to cover the cost of treatments; we’re not that big of a foundation, but we can help with other things they (patients) need.”
In Oscar’s case, that includes help with mortgage payments. But the help can be in other form, big and small, including scholarships to young persons of cancer families, and free educational programs and resources for the general public.
In 2019, the GCCF helped patients to the tune of $192,000.
“We try and help with all the stuff that comes up you don’t think about,” Kay says. Things like medical equipment, screening and testing, necessary home renovations, car payments, utility bills, caretaker or hospice fees, groceries, Christmas presents for children of cancer families, wigs for patients who suffer hair loss, prosthetics and more.
Kay says, “We try to give them (patients) some normalcy in their life because when you’re dealing with cancer, there’s a lot of cost involved and sometimes people need help to have a normal life as much as possible.”
To do that, the GCCF, an organization not affiliated with any other area or national organization, relies on the community and local groups for help. They take donations and garner support by way of annual events and fundraisers to provide services not available for people in and around south Lake County, including Clermont, Minneola, Howey-in-the-Hills, Montverde, Groveland and Mascotte.
Perhaps GCCF’s biggest fundraiser, having grown each year since its inception, is “Bras for the Cause, and Boxers Too,” an auction of themed bras and boxers extravagantly decorated by various individuals and businesses who support the cause. The event usually attracts more than 500 guests and raises approximately $70,000-75,000, but this year’s event was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kay said she hopes 2021 will see the event’s return, but in the meantime, GCCF will keep plugging along to help those in need despite COVID-19 concerns because, “We’re a true non-profit doing good for the community. It’s good to know we’re making a difference.”
Kay says GCCF is applying for state grants to help offset costs of providing ongoing help to local cancer patients, but donations are always welcome.
For more information about GCCF, or to donate, visit gccf.com.