Linda Lochbaum greeted each person by name and with a hug, momentarily stopping an interview for something more important — welcoming each person in her group for the day’s festivities.
She knows there is strength in numbers.
After all, she said, it’s hard to imagine anyone battling cancer on their own.
Lochbaum is the president of the Cancer Survivors’ Association, a support group of cancer survivors and their families in Centre County that meets on the third Monday of every month. Meetings begin at 11:30 a.m. at Mount Nittany Medical Center. The group also hosted its annual picnic Sunday at Tom Tudek Memorial Park, an opportunity to celebrate their lives and the ones lost to cancer on National Cancer Survivors Day.
Her battle against breast cancer was in 1992, eight years before the group was founded by Judy Snider and Janet Bowman. She is invested in the belief that every person who is diagnosed with cancer becomes a survivor in the same moment.
She also wants to ensure that cancer patients and their families have a support system.
“I think one of the things we understand is that it’s a chronic disease,” Lochbaum said. “Nothing magic happens at one year, two years, five years. You just continue to go for your testing, do what you need to do. I have survived a long time, and I’m thankful for that, but I would never skip having my mammogram. Other components we have is to promote that you have to take care of rest of your body when you’re going through treatment, after your treatments and that we have to support each other.”
Carol Billet, of Bellefonte, was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and felt comfortable with the group. Her battle against cancer began when her husband took her to the emergency room to get answers about her back pain.
When I found out about this group I wanted to share my story. I wanted to help other people.
Carol Billett, cancer survivor
“I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t able to lie down in my bed,” she said. “The doctor got me out of my MRI and into surgery. They said I wouldn’t be able to walk again.”
Billett was paralyzed from the waste down after her surgery.
“I wanted to walk again, so they worked with me,” Billett said. “I wasn’t going to be stuck in a bed. I couldn’t do that. I kept doing a little more and a little more. When I found out about this group I wanted to share my story. I wanted to help other people. I still have some back pain, but I get around as much as I can and try to help people, because others helped me.”
One of the ways the group pulls its resources together is through its Totes of Hope program providing tote bags for hundreds of cancer patients in the county every year.
The idea started with the group’s late founders.
“There’s an organizer notebook in it, and that’s what the founders realized,” Lochbaum said. “People are overwhelmed when they get their diagnosis of cancer. They’re overwhelmed in so many ways, so it’s nice to have some place to keep track of their appointments, lab results, doctors, their resources. That’s a big piece.
“We also provide the tote with a blanket to keep them warm during treatment, a water bottle, ballpoint pens and hand sanitizer. A dentist is going to give us toothbrushes, so it’s all evolving. We put these in local oncologist offices at Geisinger (Medical Center) and Mount Nittany. We just recently got extra funding, so in the next few months we’ll put them in other physician offices.”
Snider and Bowman’s vision for the group has remained intact, according to Amy Flick, former president of the group and owner of Lemont Physical Therapy.
“I’m just thankful to be able to do what we’re doing,” Lochbaum said. “We all know cancer can take off in any one of us and we never know when it’s going to happen to one of us, so we need to support each other when it does happen.”