Mary Latta (left) and Cheryl Tuymer work on crafts at a meeting
of the Giving Back Society.
After doctors successfully treated her cancer, Mary Latta was searching for something to help her move forward with her life. She was looking for a way to manage the side effects of cancer and wanted to connect with others who had similar cancer experiences. A nurse at her doctor’s office gave her a brochure about Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center. Less than three years later, she has become one of Waterford Place’s biggest advocates and influencers.
“It was almost scary to walk in here the first time,” Mary says, but she took a tour and signed up for yoga. “I had never before done yoga in my life. Now I’ve become a yoga fanatic.” She also signed up for an art class, nutrition class and a workshop on osteoporosis and became involved in the Garden Club.
Then she discovered two things that are now highlights of her month. “The two things I cannot do without are Craft and Chat and the Giving Back Society,” she says. Craft and Chat is a monthly informal gathering run by the participants themselves where they chat and drink tea or coffee while working on individual crafting projects. She has helped to grow the Giving Back Society, which meets monthly to brainstorm ideas and work on projects that benefit the cancer community. Participants handcraft items such as port and neck pillows, rice eye pillows (which apply a relaxing weight over the eyes while shielding them from light to help the wearer overcome tension), and warming pads that offer physical comfort. These crafts not only benefit the users, they provide the group with a shared safe space to “give back” together.
“We give to people who are going through what we’ve gone through,” Mary explains.
Strength and Support
In these groups, Mary has found camaraderie and the emotional strength and support that many patients need. Before finding Waterford Place, she had no one to talk to who had experienced what she was experiencing. She had struggled to overcome the life-altering side effects of her treatments. “It is a lonely road to travel,” she says but Waterford Place changed that. She has bonded with other program participants. “Everyone jumps in and is behind you,” she says. “Waterford Place opened the door to these relationships. There are so many opportunities here to find your niche.”
Since finding Waterford Place, Mary has again been diagnosed with cancer – the breast cancer metastasized to the spine and hips. She has met this setback with realistic optimism and believes her participation in Waterford programs, particularly yoga and pilates, has made her physically stronger and better able to deal with this latest challenge. “Without that, I would be wheelchair bound,” she says.
Mary’s perpetual optimism influenced an independently initiated support group made up of other Waterford Place participants, now known as the Waterford Warriors. The warriors exist to provide social support independent of Waterford Place programming. They check in with each other periodically via text, email and phone to ensure that participants are never alone in their journeys.
“I have been inspired by her tenacity,” says Omar Ramos, program and administrative support coordinator at Waterford Place. “She is a woman of grit, gumption, gentleness and compassion and she embraces hope while navigating crisis.”
This is demonstrated by the nearly 300 sundresses Mary has sewn to donate to girls around the world. After her retirement and before starting at Waterford, she began sewing these dresses which she has sent to places like Haiti and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Since last year’s spinal cancer diagnosis, she can no longer stand long enough to iron to make the dresses. “But,” she says brightly, “I still manage to keep busy. Our Giving Back projects are small and easier to work with.”
Participant and Advocate
Still an active program participant, she has moved beyond participation into avid advocacy for Waterford Place.
Mary shares what she’s learned at Waterford Place with her physicians, family members and friends. She strongly supports the value of Waterford programming and has given of her time and talent to ensure other cancer patients have access to a sanctuary that supports whole person care and helps them live full, meaningful lives. Mary describes Waterford Place as a shining light that burns brightly for all who come in contact with it.
“Every place I go, every doctor’s office, I bring Waterford brochures,” she says. “I tell them to tell friends. I never quit. I ‘sell’ Waterford Place to someone every week!”
Encouraging Participants and Staff
Mary was also part of the ambassador program, speaking to individuals at the Cancer Care Center about Waterford Place, giving them pens as well as handmade gifts of cloth face masks or port covers.
“Hers is one of many amazing stories of resiliency that encourage Waterford Place staff and participants to meet obstacles with optimism and transform tragedy into triumph,” Ramos says.
“Waterford Place was a total lifesaver for me,” Mary says, “and all of the participants I know feel the same way.”