As they scoured university, community and online bookstores, the two uncovered a major gap in cancer education; there was nothing for friends and colleagues of people experiencing cancer. Five physicians at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and White Plains Hospital Center told Ms. Draeger, “We know of no book especially for friends, but this is so important that we are willing to help. Just give us our assignments."
In 2003, this simple question spawned a young cancer education organization, In Marjolein’s Memory, Inc., also known as Friends & Cancer. The project was named for Marjolein Ungerer, a young mother who died of recurring breast cancer at age 37. This organization, which Ms. Draeger currently leads, is a 501(c)(3) public charity dedicated to creating materials and learning opportunities to prepare and encourage friends to help and support people with cancer.
The organization’s initial task was to research a new book, surveying cancer survivors and their friends to confirm the need for such a book, and to determine what should be included. Hundreds of questionnaires were distributed and responses were divided into groups of survivors, friends or family. What did survivors want their friends to know? What did friends want included in the text? What should be excluded?
Eighteen focus groups were conducted from Manhattan to Portland, Oregon – in small towns, university communities, the rural Midwest and retirement locales in the Southwest. Is this book truly needed? What do you want to see in the text? Do you have helpful experiences as survivors, family or friends, to share with readers? The response was enthusiastic and immediate: there exists a clear need for a nuts and bolts book written especially for friends, including basic – but not exhaustive – cancer information and specific advice that builds confidence and skills for responding effectively and supportively to people with cancer, friend-to-friend.
At the same time, the project vision was spreading nationwide. Soon the project recruited over forty professionals as contributors including oncologists, surgeons, social workers, clergy, psychologists, cancer educators, and artists.
After nearly a decade of research and writing, When Cancer Strikes a Friend: What to Say, What to Do, and How to Help is completed and will be released by Skyhorse Publishing in October, 2012. Nationwide workshops, lectures and book signings will be held from the release date through 2014. Community organizations who would like to request a free cancer education workshop or program should contact Bonnie Draeger at Friends & Cancer, P.O. Box 1571, East Orleans, MA, 02643.
Friends & Cancer will donate over 2000 copies of When Cancer Strikes a Friend to libraries, community centers, physicians’ offices, churches/mosques/synagogues, and cancer centers across the country.
If you would like to help provide free community cancer education programming and books, click on the “donate” tab or contact, Friends & Cancer, P.O. Box 1571, East Orleans, MA, 02643.