The American Cancer Society Supports Others With Resources, Partnerships & Programs
Photography provided by Amy Payne & The American Cancer Society
When cancer strikes, it’s often a life-changing event for the entire family. Such was the case for Tatijana Marsee, who was in fifth grade when her mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Her mom immediately went on the defensive and empowered herself through advocacy work with the American Cancer Society (ACS).
“She started our first school Relay for Life team,” Marsee says. She also became the point of contact for anyone in the vicinity who received a cancer diagnosis.
“If anyone in our town was diagnosed with cancer, they would contact my mom and she would go to their house and talk with them about what ACS had to offer and who they could partner with to get the best treatment,” Marsee says. “Mom was such a great inspiration in our town.”
That town, by the way, was Milan, Indiana, made famous in the basketball film “Hoosiers.”
“Milan is really small with no stoplights,” Marsee says. “Pretty much the whole town banded together for whatever philanthropic event there was.”
Watching her mother be a champion for her community lit a fire within Marsee, and by middle school, she, too, was volunteering with ACS.
During college, Marsee studied communications and public relations. After graduating, she became the marketing manager for a printing and mailing company. Though she loved her clients, she missed the philanthropy. Then one day while attending the Indy Hub Community Involvement Fair, she was offered the position of Community Development Manager for ACS.
“The number one thing most people don’t usually know about ACS is that they are a national nonprofit that helps on a local level,” Marsee says. “We basically take all the resources and connections we’ve made across the nation and bring that to the local level.”
Though through the decades their hands have been in every major cancer research investment, they’ve always been behind the scenes funding doctors, conducting their own research or providing grants and foundational money to hospitals such as Riley or IU West.
“Our college students and our doctors right here in our home town are actually funding the cancer research, which is really cool,” Marsee says.
Though the American Cancer Society has been around for more than 110 years, their programs have evolved through the years. For instance, they had a “look good, feel better” program that helped people working through cancer treatments make sure they felt good about the aesthetic side of things.
“This is important because we never want somebody to not finish their treatment because they’re self-conscience about losing their hair,” Marsee says.
Now the ACS is more focused on access to care programs. For instance, Hope Lodge is for cancer patients who have to travel for treatments and need somewhere safe and clean to stay for free or at a discounted rate.
“Here in Indiana, we partner with local hotels who supply us with rooms for the patient and their caregiver so they don’t have to suffer that financial burden,” Marsee adds.
The idea behind the free or discounted lodging is that they want patients to be able to go to whatever location offers the best treatment for their particular type of cancer.
ACS has other programs and partnerships that also offer a personal touch. For instance, one partners a current breast cancer patient with someone who has walked that road before.
“Someone who has been through it themselves knows the ins and outs,” Marsee says. “They can offer tips or suggestions for what to ask the doctor.”
In addition, they have a 24/7 hotline that patients can call for support.
Their newest program, called Road to Recovery, is where local residents donate their passenger seat and their time to transport patients to and from their treatments.
“We have quite a few Hendricks County residents who are Road to Recovery drivers,” Marsee says. “Some are retired. Some have battled cancer themselves.”
Robert Sexton maintains that volunteering as a Road to Recovery driver has been the most rewarding thing he’s ever done. He notes that assisting patients when they are enduring a difficult time requires understanding and patience but is so worth the reward.
“It’s not a stretch to imagine a friend or family member or even yourself being in this situation,” says Sexton. “So, give the good people at the ACS a call and inquire about the Road to Recovery program. You’ll love it and patients will love you.”
The big fundraising events typically take place in the spring and summer, though they fundraise all year long. According to Marsee, Brownsburg is ranked fourth in the state for top fundraising.
“We blew our goal out of the water this year by $15,000,” Marsee adds. “Brownsburg and surrounding communities raised $135,000. Greater Hendricks Relay has done great at fundraising.”
Sharon Hammer, a member of the Relay for Life Event Planning Team for the past 13 years, is dedicated to ACS’ mission of raising funding and awareness for cancer research.
“Relay for Life allows us to celebrate caregivers and survivors, honors those who have lost their battle, brings awareness to children and adults alike, and provides financial support to help find a cure,” says Hammer, who is grateful for Marsee’s fierce devotion to ACS. “Tatijana has been a huge support to each of us providing her expertise, guidance, support and encouragement throughout the months leading up to our relay. We would never be able to host such an amazing relay without her support and the support of the rest of the ACS staff.”
ACS’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Hendricks County will take place on October 5 as October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The funds raised for this event go specifically to breast cancer research. Other fundraising platforms, such as Relay for Life, is all-encompassing for all cancers. The event, which will take place at Washington Township Park, is a noncompetitive walk designed to honor those who have battled breast cancer. Registration starts at 9 a.m. and the walk will begin at 10.
“This day is meant to be a celebration,” says Marsee, noting that 90% of their events are volunteer-led.
“Volunteers lead these missions throughout the community,” Marsee says. “We’ve had Brownsburg, Avon and Plainfield schools get involved as well.”
For instance, Cardinal Elementary in Brownsburg has a Relay Kids Club where the students host their own fundraisers such as Muffins with Moms, Doughnuts with Dads and Breakfast with Santa.
“At these events, the kids serve the breakfast and run the activities,” Marsee says.
Community members and cancer survivors are grateful for the support they’ve received through the ACS. Hammer says the programs ACS provides for cancer victims, survivors, caregivers and families continues to be a huge source of support for all those touched by cancer.
“Everyone knows someone affected by cancer,” Hammer says.
Andra Ignas, a 15-year Relay for Life captain, is currently battling the insidious disease for the third time.
“ACS has provided me with so much emotional and physical support and resources,” says Ignas, who calls herself a “survivor and thriver.”
“It’s wonderful for a community to come together and support one another,” she says. “Tatijana is so passionate about ACS. She makes me want to work harder to continue to raise money and help.”