Berkshire Trade & Commerce monthly
Vol. 14 No. 9
“The Business Journal For Berkshire County”
Cancer battle leads to WIN Lenox woman launches resource network to aid others fighting disease By John Townes Like other people who have had cancer, Laura Fetherolf of Lenox experienced many intense emotions during her diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy treatment in 2008 and 2009. Despite a grim prognosis from her physicians, one emotion that predominated after she moved past the initial shock was a determination to survive. Fetherolf, who is a real estate developer, said she exerted her willpower to find ways to better withstand the ravages of chemotherapy and to fundamentally strengthen her system. In addition to the oncologists and other medical specialists who were managing her treatment, Fetherolf made contact with several experts in alternative health and wellness who also helped her to make changes, such as adopting a macrobiotic diet, as well as other forms of self-care including meditation and a manageable exercise regimen. In June of 2009, to the surprise of her doctors, tests indicated that she was cancerfree, although she will have to contend with the prospects of the disease for the rest of her life. Although initially preoccupied with her own struggle with cancer, Fetherolf’s attention began to expand outward. While the tests, treatment and other impacts were a difficult ordeal for her, she also realized that many women were going through a similar situation without the advantages and resources she had. “I was fortunate because I had a family and a network to provide me with support and guidance,” she recalled. “I was also able to take time off from my business while I was going through the worst of it. But I kept wondering
Laura Fetherolf says her own experience with cancer inspired her to form the Women’s Integrative Network as a way to provide support and guidance to others with cancer. The nonprofit organization will hold the first of a series of “Berkshire Boogie Night” outreach and fund-raising events on Jan. 15 in Pittsfield. about all of the women who are going through this alone and who can’t take time off from their jobs to focus on recovery. What do they do when they have to face this?” As she recovered, she decided to dedicate herself to helping other women with cancer to find support and guidance, which led her to form the Women’s Integrative Network (WIN) in February 2010. The organization is still in its early formative stages. Fetherolf is both the director and sole staff person at WIN, and her work is currently on a volunteer basis. She already fields the phone calls from cancer patients herself from her home office (413-637-4663). At the same time, WIN is a collaborative, community-based initiative that includes a mix of both traditional and alternative medical practitioners and other community members. Its board of directors includes Louann Harvey, a vice president at Berkshire Bank; Dr.
Spyridon Triantos, an oncologist; Dr. Alan Inglis, an integrative care physician; and CPA Raymond Kushi of Kushi & Myers PC. It also has a board of advisers that includes Dr. Susan Lord, Dr. Vijaya Nair, Mark Mead, Mayer Kirkpatrick, Joanne Levitt and Randi Haskins-Jordan. Fetherolf noted that a major boost for the formation of WIN was provided by Louann Harvey. “She’s a friend of mine, and, when I told her about what I’d been through, she invited me to tell my story at a women’s health event in December 2009 in Great Barrington called Girls’ Night Out. She even set up a booth for me there,” Fetherolf recalled. “I was a little nervous about the speech beforehand, but it was successful, and things took off from there.” WIN is intended to become an information and assistance network for women with cancer. Its particular focus is on helping women
connect with resources for alternative healing and wellness in areas such as nutrition and natural supplements, psychological and spiritual counseling, and exercise. This is based on an approach known as integrative medicine, which combines mainstream medicine and alternative practices on a complementary basis. While there have long been differences between these aspects of healing, the increasing emphasis on wellness and prevention of disease in the healthcare system has led to growing recognition of integrative approaches.
“We see WIN as a bridge between traditional and integrative medicine,” she said. Fetherolf emphasized that her organization looks to provide information that will enable women to make their own choices, and it does not advocate for any particular approach. Nor is it intended to encourage women to replace chemotherapy or other medical treatments with alternative practices. “Integrative medicine focuses on healing through attention to the body, mind and spirit,” she explained. “People with cancer especially need healing in all those aspects. WIN is set up to help them find information and resources, so they can make informed choices. It can also empower them with tools they can use for a lifetime.” One of the core goals of WIN is to build a database of practitioners, organizations and products that women with cancer can utilize for guidance and support. This information will be available by telephone and eventually online. In addition to practitioners in this region, Fetherolf is also including those from other areas into the database. Fetherolf said WIN is also likely to sponsor programs and workshops and other activities. WIN is about to conduct a collection drive of wigs, hats and scarves for distribution to women with cancer “One problem is that many women aren’t covered by insurance for things like wigs [to cover over hair loss during chemotherapy],” she noted. While its primary orientation is to women with cancer, Fetherolf noted that the services of WIN are also available to men. “We won’t turn anyone away,” she said. Fetherolf hopes that WIN will eventually evolve into a nationwide network based in Berkshire County, with branches elsewhere. “I’d like to see it become a resource that’s available throughout the country,” she said. “Ideally what we’re doing in Berkshire County will be a pilot for what can be done elsewhere.” Having laid the groundwork, Fetherolf and the other organizers are now working to raise funds to take WIN to the next level. The organization is about to launch its
first major outreach and fund-raising drive, with series of events called Berkshire Boogie Nights that will take a light-hearted – and light-footed – approach to the serious purpose of raising money for its efforts. “It will basically be a traveling dance party that will take place at different venues around the county,” explained Fetherolf. “People can get out and have a good time, while supporting WIN.”
“I kept wondering about all of the women who are going through this alone and who can’t take time off from their jobs to focuses on recovery. What do they do when they have to face this?”
The first Berkshire Boogie Night will take place Jan. 15 at Jae’s Spice in downtown Pittsfield. Fetherolf said additional events are being planned for subsequent months at other locations, including March 5 at Crissey Farm in Great Barrington and April 9 at a location to be announced. Admission is a donation of $15 per person, or $25 for couples. For planning purposes, Fetherolf requested that people interested in attending RSVP by telephone at her WIN office or by email at LAF.WIN.firstname.lastname@example.org.
A native of Orange County in New York, Fetherolf lived in Manhattan from age 18 to 35, and worked in the travel industry. Her husband, Dean Heal, works in information technology. “I’m aware of the irony of his last name, considering what I’m doing now,” chuckled Fetherolf. After living in Vancouver, B.C., they moved to Berkshire County in 1998. She began working in real estate, including redeveloping and managing properties in Lenox. In the summer of 2008, she discovered a lump on her breast and immediately had a mammogram and ultrasound tests done. Initially, it was diagnosed as benign until she sought a second opinion. Subsequent tests that December revealed an especially severe and rare form of cancer, stage IIIC inflammatory breast cancer, and a tumor that had four satellite nodes and which had spread to her auxiliary lymph nodes. She was immediately placed into an intensive six-month chemotherapy program. Fetherolf emphasized that, overall, she was satisfied with her medical treatment and the medical professionals that were involved. “Once I was correctly diagnosed, I got very good and quick treatment from the physicians and other medical staff,” she said. However, she also felt the need to look beyond the medical system to make changes
to bolster her overall health and strength. Through friends she made contact with Nina Anderson, who operates Safe Goods Catalogue, and others involved in holistic health, including Dr. Vijaya Nair, a medical researcher and epidemiologist who operates a company called Jiva that manufactures a line of supplement products, and Mark Mead, MSc, who works for the Carolina Center for Integrative Medicine. They provided her with supplements including a soy-based product called Haelan, and also gave her other suggestions, including lymph scrubs and meditation. She adapted a macrobiotic diet, and spent a week at the Kushi Institute in Becket, a center for natural healing and macrobiotic nutrition. “It was a team effort,” noted Fetherolf. “A lot of people helped me out.” However, Fetherolf said the confusion and frustration she experienced during her own diagnosis and treatment was one of the reasons she saw a need for an organization like WIN. Cancer involves very complex factors, and there are many different approaches, and some controversies about differing methods of treatment. Fetherolf said she found it difficult to get answers from medical professionals beyond the core aspects of her treatment For example, she said, as part of her nutritional regimen she had eliminated sugar from her diet. However, when she mentioned this to one of her surgeons in Boston, the physician told her she should not change her regular diet, but would not discuss any specifics. That threw her into a panic and sense of frustration. “Why did the doctor just say that without knowing anything about my regular diet, or discussing the reasons?” she recalled. “Later I realized that doctors have been limited in what they can say, because of traditions and other factors like liability. Especially when it involves cancer, there are a whole host of issues involved, and so doctors won’t talk about things that are not clinically proven.” Fetherolf believes that this inhibits many cancer patients from taking a more proactive approach to their health outside of the boundaries of treatment. One of the purposes of integrative medicine is to move beyond those limitations to provide people with more comprehensive and holistic recovery strategies. In addition to her organizational work for WIN, Fetherolf has been traveling to conferences around the country with Dr. Nair to give speeches about her experiences and her goals for WIN. “When you have cancer, you are in such a state of fear that you won’t do anything the doctor doesn’t tell you to do,” she contended. “One of my primary goals is to tell my story, and hopefully inspire other women in that situation about what can be done.”u