Monday, October 1, 2012

Because what we do matters

EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog is very personal. It attempts to explain why my sister, Susanne, and I have created a special charity assortment of chocolates debuting this fall – the Anderson’s Candy Shop Give Back Box. For every one of these special assortments sold we will donate 25% of the proceeds to the Family Health Partnership Clinic of Woodstock, IL. Please read on for more information or visit

I wish I had known about the Family Health Partnership Clinic in 2006. If I had, maybe things would be different.

Six years ago this November, I found out that my mother, Ruth, had breast cancer.

I was 20 years old and home on Thanksgiving Break from Eastern Illinois University. I had come home early intent on surprising everyone. A happy surprise.

Upon sneaking into the house at about 3 a.m., I surprised mom first. She was on her way back to bed from a trip to the bathroom.

What happened next still seems like a dream to me -- unreal.

Even in the dark I could see that she was trying to hide something. And I was horrified when I realized that she was trying to block me from seeing that one of her breasts was triple it’s normal size.

There was a tumor.

She had hidden it well under her everyday clothes but the thin fabric of the nightgowns mom loved to wear could not hide the mass on her chest.

Shock and disbelief hit me first. Then horror, sadness, panic and anger.

Why had she not seen a doctor? How could she have let a likely cancerous growth get so large?

Then there was fear and tears. She might die.

My mother did not have health insurance or a job at that time. She let her condition escalate because she was afraid that if she was diagnosed with cancer before she had health insurance, she would not be able to afford treatment.

My sister, living at home at the time, was 18 years old and struggling to learn what she could to help our mom, but we were limited by our youth and naivety to the intricacies of health care policy and law.

Soon after I discovered mom's tumor, my Dad and his second wife, Tracy, helped my mom get approved for insurance through the State of Illinois. And, eventually, mom underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.

And she beat the cancer. For a while.

Three years later however, on a weekend trip home from my first job out of college, I had to convince mom once again to go to the hospital for treatment.

She had let her state insurance policy lapse because she could not afford to keep up with the payments. She also never got plugged in to a health care facility that helped her stay diligent with followup treatments.

In addition, she fell into a deep depression as one of the side effects of the radiation treatments.

The result -- the cancer was back and it was too late this time.

We learned shortly after mom was admitted to Centegra Hospital - McHenry, that the cancer had spread to her lymphatic system and metastasized her liver.

Five days later she was gone.

Ever since, Susanne and I, although surrounded by many loving and supportive people, have had to struggle with the pain and loss of someone whom we loved so much.

We have also wrestled since then with the thought that something as simple as knowing where clinics existed that helped the uninsured might have altered things; that having better knowledge of how the system works and what resources were available may have changed mom’s decisions and the outcome.

Two years after mom’s death and three years into my career as a journalist at daily newspapers, I thought I had gotten over most of those feelings of grief and regret.

I had written articles about all-consuming house fires, car accidents and other tragedies. But when I stumbled upon an assignment to write a piece about a volunteer at the Family Health Partnership Clinic of Woodstock, Illinois, I found myself suddenly very affected.

I learned about this place -- the clinic -- which provided consultations, medications and treatment to hundreds of McHenry County's uninsured. And I learned about the tireless volunteers there who care for the seemingly unending line of those who come seeking help.

After I interviewed my source,(Mary Lou was her name), I cried.

I cried because I was moved by her generous spirit. I shed tears for the hundreds of others who I imagined might be scared like my mother was. And I cried because I was so happy there were people there to help.

In her time on this earth, my mother taught my sister and I that what you do in this life matters.

And now as we now approach our third holiday season without her, Susanne and I find ourselves in a unique position to do something that we think would make her proud.

As October begins, we are closing in on our first year as full-time employees at the Candy Shop and now have control over several managerial aspects of the business. With that new freedom and power we have decided to create Anderson's first-ever charity-candy box.

Susanne and I have invented the Anderson's Candy Shop Give Back Box, a special chocolate assortment that we are going to sell this winter, in order to raise money for the Family Health Partnership Clinic.

By January, we hope to have raised some money to support the clinic and also hope to have raised awareness in the community to the clinic's cause. We want to help ensure that other families are aware of at least one local option for health care for the uninsured.

For more information about this project you can visit our website at

Thank you for reading and have a happy and health rest of 2012.