20 Years of Hope

Hopewell Cancer Support members participate in a yoga nidra class.
Hopewell Cancer Support members participate in a yoga nidra class.
(David Stuck)

When her husband, Ed, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2006, Elise Ziv knew her family needed more than medical attention to cope with the crisis. Fortunately, someone told her about Hopewell Cancer Support. Ed and Elise Ziv and their two boys, Caleb and Coby, then 5 and 7 years old, all received free services from licensed professionals there and, above all, found a community of people who understood what they were up against.

“My husband joined a brain tumor support group, and that helped him to realize he wasn’t the only one going through the illness,” said Ziv, 48. “I joined another group for caregivers of people with cancer. That gave me a place to talk about what I was feeling. I wanted to protect my husband from that.

“The boys went to the Kids Circle,” she continued, “which they loved immediately.”

After her husband passed away in 2011 at the age of 48, the Zivs continued to find comfort at Hopewell. Caleb and Cory attended a grief support group for children, where they were able to share their feelings with other youngsters dealing with the loss of a parent from cancer.

“The facilitators were great,” said their mother. “They gave the kids the words to talk about their grief no matter what they were feeling.”

Ziv still attends a group for “only parents,” those who have lost spouses and still have kids living at home.

“We have a unique situation,” she said. “When you walk into Hopewell, you don’t have to explain yourself. Everybody knows. You can get right to the heart of what’s going on. It’s really been a lifeline for us. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

When it opened 20 years ago, Hopewell was known as the Wellness Community of Baltimore. A local affiliate of a national organization, the Wellness Community was, according to co-founder Suzanne Brace, the first of its kind on the East Coast. A decade ago, the organization split off from the Wellness Community and became Hopewell, an independent entity.

“I had cancer when I was 32 — more than half my life ago — and I was living in California at the time. I looked around for support, and there was nothing for me,” recalled Brace. After recovering, she went to graduate school, became a mental health counselor and eventually moved to Baltimore. “It was pure serendipity. I knew someone who knew I had always wanted to start a wellness community. She suggested we start one in Baltimore.”

For several years, Brace volunteered there and then became its executive director.

Hopewell, which sits on eight acres in a restored farmhouse in Lutherville, offers 125 different programs each month and serves 1,000 people a year, said Brace. In addition to the groups Ziv and her family have attended, Hopewell also offers mind/body healing classes such as yoga, qigong, Nia technique and meditation, expressive arts classes and support groups for specific types of cancer. There are also educational programs and social events.

Brace said that 40 percent of those who receive services at Hopewell are family members of someone with cancer, while 60 percent are people diagnosed with the illness. All of the services are free, and all funding is raised through philanthropy. Hopewell has an annual budget of $1 million.

One of the chief differences between Hopewell and other cancer organizations is that it isn’t a medical setting, said Brace. “We set a tone that says there’s another part of you besides your body that we value. We believe if your mind, soul and spirit can be nurtured you’ll be in a better position to deal with anything that arises.”

Ziv echoed Brace’s sentiments: “People dealing with cancer see too many hospitals. One thing I like about Hopewell is it is so anti-institutional. The minute you drive up to the house there’s this transformation that happens. There’s a feeling of warmth and home and peace. Sometimes I just like to go there and walk around the grounds.”

Brace said that there are no rules or expectations with regard to attendance at Hopewell.

“Some people come once a week; some people come three times a week. Some people don’t come until 10 years after they’re diagnosed,” she said. “There are no limits on how much they attend. It depends on what they need. We meet you on your path and help you through your journey. That’s our philosophy.”

Despite the free services Hopewell provides, Brace realizes that people may be hesitant to reach out for help.

“A lot of people don’t come because they think we will be depressing. But then they walk in and feel right at home,” she said. “The fact is, we see much more laughter than tears. We’re just about the friendliest place in town.”

John Miller discovered Hopewell when he was diagnosed with melanoma 12 years ago. Before Hopewell moved to its current location, the organization rented space in the building where Miller worked.

“I used to see people coming and going with yoga mats and [meditation] pillows. I figured they weren’t going to see their accountant,” the 48-year-old Owings Mill native remarked. “When I got my diagnosis, I strolled upstairs and without knowing what it was, I met the staff and Suzanne Brace. We chatted for a long time about the organization, and I really took to it. I thought, ‘This is a special place.’ So I started fundraising, and they asked me to join the board.”

When his friend, Jim Wolf of Pikesville, was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx, Miller reached out and encouraged him to get involved with Hopewell too. For the past eight years, the two, both avid music lovers, have been chairing Hopewell’s annual fundraiser, Concert for Hope, together.

“We have a lot of friends who play in bands for fun, so they performed; we sold tickets and had an auction,” Miller said. “The last couple of years, the event has grown and we decided to expand.

“In 2013, we paid for talent for the first time,” he added. “This year, we’re having [local rock band] The Bridge headlining. It’s even more special to Jim and me since we’ve been seeing them for years; they’re sort of friends, they’re talented and have a nice local following.”

This year’s concert will take place on Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. at Baltimore Soundstage. In addition to The Bridge, the concert will also feature the music of the Hippy Sheiks.

“It’s really geared to music lovers,” said Miller, “and it’s a way to go out for a casual night and support local musicians and a great cause.”

For additional information and to purchase tickets to the Concert for Hope, go to hopewellcancersupport.org/Events.


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