When Stewart Surloff was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, he was lucky to have a vast network of friends and family, but even though he was dying, he was concerned for others facing cancer who weren’t fortunate enough to have this support.
After he passed away, his wife, Mimi, decided to honor her late husband’s wishes by founding a “Gathering Place” for others in the community afflicted with cancer. And Stewart’s Caring Place: Cancer Wellness Center was born.
Now, 10 years later, numerous residents have benefited from the nonprofit’s free services, whether it’s through Tai Chi or yoga classes, reiki massage, makeup classes, end-of-life planning, digital creative arts for young people or support groups for family members of patients, among other services. Stewart’s Caring Place supplements conventional medical treatment with holistic healing to connect mind, body and spirit, rounding out the experience of patients and their families.
And at times, just having someone to talk to helps these residents realize they’re not alone as they fight this all-too-common killer.
“The focus of our work is supporting families on their cancer journey,” said Executive Director Olivia Wakeling. “Our work’s really not about cancer. It’s about life and enjoying each day that we’re given on this earth.”
Stewart’s also has a scenic butterfly garden outside, and a wig room for those women who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy.
One of those who have benefited from these services is Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer, from the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer last May. She decided to take Tai Chi classes at Stewart’s.
“This is a very special place,” said Stormer, noting the nonprofit’s wide array of services. “Because it gives them room to move, literally, and grow, literally.” Stormer, who initially lost her hair and her eyebrows due to chemotherapy, said the organization’s makeup classes help women regain their confidence. And she references the fortitude and bravery of the women she attended classes with.
One of the recent additions to the organization is a digital arts program for young people. “Art and music are a very important part of reducing anxiety and helping people to speak a language that is boundless and relatable,” said Becky Brown, program coordinator for Stewart’s Caring Place, who adds that these types of creative outlets offer “that go-to place when we’re in those dark corners of our lives.”
Brown was diagnosed with cancer on her 10th birthday, and she says she wishes there would have been a place like Stewart’s when she battled her illness. When she found out about the organization, she said she knew “it was something I had to get involved with right away.” Brown became involved as a volunteer and now is an integral staff member of the small nonprofit.
“It’s a very gentle balance of offering the right program to the right people at the right time,” said Brown. “So we see people that are in that very raw state. They come in. They’ve just been diagnosed and they only hear the word cancer echo over and over again.”
The organization is mostly volunteer-run, save for a few truly dedicated staff members. Visitors to the center are greeted with a warm smile by a volunteer, many of whom are battling cancer.
“We’ve come a long way in the 10 years we’ve been in existence,” said Mimi Surloff, a co-founder of Stewart’s Caring Place.
“They have a complete, comprehensive type of support for anyone who has cancer,” said Stormer. “I think it’s a jewel that people should know more about.”
Stewart’s Caring Place, located at 2955 W. Market St. (near Summit Mall), is in need of volunteers and donations. To find out more, visit www.stewartscaringplace.org.