Debbie Hemley is one of the people who has been instrumental in helping our community stay connected during the transition of the closing of The Wellness Community (TWC) and the opening of Facing Cancer Together. Together with Catherine Weber, Deb set up our online presence on Ning, a free online social networking platform. A year later, she continues to answer the clinical staff’s technical questions—which at times are plentiful!
Deb was first diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia l7 years ago and had been successfully managed with chemotherapy until 2000 when her clinical team urged her to undergo a bone marrow transplant to “push the disease back further.” In the months leading up to the transplant she attended a weekly meditation group at TWC, which she attributes to helping carry her through that period.
In the Fall of 2005, Debbie returned to TWC—this time with a friend who had been diagnosed with cancer, and started to attend the weekly Writing for Wellness Group. Several months later she was shocked to receive news that her cancer had returned. “Even though no one had promised me a cure, secretly I had started to believe I was out of the woods… I didn’t know how to do recurrence.” As someone who had always wanted to be a writer she was drawn to the Memoir Writing Group where she started to write personal essays. “Writing for Wellness and Memoir held me together. I don’t know how I would have gotten through otherwise.” Since then, Deb has been an active and essential member of the Writing for Wellness group.
Debbie recalls the day last year when she received the call about The Wellness Community closing. She was out of town when she heard the news. “I went into complete despair.” When she returned to Boston, she contacted Catherine, of Weber Media Partners who was also interested in finding a way to help the organization. From their conversation they determined the organization needed to find a way to maintain communication with participants and the public at large. They identified Ning as a tool to use and within a matter of days the site was developed and outreach began. Modestly, Deb says, “We didn’t know the power of what we had created.”
“Our worlds came together and overlapped” Deb says, referring to her friendship with Catherine. It all started by chance when they had both attended a poetry reading of Mary Oliver, and were seated next to one another. As their friendship grew, Debbie started to work on marketing projects for Catherine’s business, Weber Media Partners. Deb introduced Catherine to TWC where she started to teach collage classes. Together they’ve collaborated on behalf of Facing Cancer Together.
“I wanted to find a way to give back. Facing Cancer Together has given me so much. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the bone marrow transplant and the cancer recurrence otherwise. Because I’ve lived with cancer for so many years, I’ve felt at times that I may have exhausted my support system. But with my friends and the clinical staff at Facing Cancer Together, I know that they are there for me in a very unique way. This is an amazing community.”