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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Street Class: Memory Lane's Cancer Survivor Gives Back

Janet Forge, Dr. Ruth Lavigne, and Tammy Schroder

Khalil Gibran once said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Through her battle with cancer, Fort Thomas resident Tammy Schroder was able to emerge stronger than ever, and with a renewed focus on giving back to those in need. Without her experience with cancer, Schroder might not have been inspired to help others fighting cancer in Kentucky. 

Schroder had a solid support system comprised of family and friends during her cancer treatments. One friend in particular, Janet Forge, was at her side every step of the day. Their friendship dates back to their childhood. “There was always something special about Tammy,” said Forge when describing the beginnings of their friendship. According to Forge, the two are kindred spirits.

Forge was determined to stand by Schroder through her cancer fight. During cancer treatments, Forge repeatedly told Schroder that she was destined for something more, and her reason for surviving cancer would one day be revealed to her. Forge's prediction did indeed come true in the form of Pikeville, Kentucky.

During one fateful meeting at her radiation oncologist's office, Schroder was inspired to give back to the people of Pikeville. “Dr Ruth Lavigne told me that she was moving to Pikeville. She told me that she and Brad (her husband is also a radiation oncologist) had enough money, and it was time for them to give back. I remember saying out loud, 'That's it, that's what I am supposed to do, help you.' She must have thought I was crazy. We had a great relationship, I adored her. But she really didn't know me. How could I walk away from that without helping her. I knew that this is one of the poorest areas in our nation, and the need there is so great,” said Schroder.

Schroder describes the difference between Northern Kentucky and Pikeville as a matter of want versus need. “For example, I work with the Cris Collinsworth Pink Ribbon Survivor Circle. When a patient is diagnosed here, they receive a Pink Ribbon bag filled with amazing items to help with the journey and we provide a phone number of a survivor for moral support.” If such service existed in Pikeville, it would have to be greatly altered. For starters, Pikeville's illiteracy rates are high, and items like books and pamphlets wouldn't be as helpful for their community. “Dr Lavigne said many of her patients are illiterate and this would not be something of value for them,” said Schroder. “The bags Janet and I have put together are filled with personal care items, lotion, soap, body wash, a blanket, a hat, etc. We have come to know these items for them are a need.” Many of the items that fall under the “need” category for Pikeville residents are things that we often take for granted.

The road to Pikeville wasn't easy for Schroder. “When Janet told me over and over that I would one day see the purpose of my cancer, I was skeptical. I don't know if it was the fact that I was so sick and couldn't see the forest through the trees. Sometimes I think she said it to take my mind off of things,” said Schroder. Forge's faith was unwavering. She never doubted her belief that Schroder would one day be healed, and would then discover why she had been forced to endure her battle with cancer.

Schroder and Forge have made two trips to Pikeville so far. On their first trip, they gifted fifty families with a weeks worth of food. Their time in Pikeville was humbling. “When I got home, I cried. I wept like a baby. I felt so guilty for what I have,” said Forge. 

During their second trip to Pikeville, Forge and Schroder took personal care bags to give to the patients. The duo has made sure to pay attention to which items cancer patients will need with each season. They sent 125 hats to Pikeville's oncology patients in the fall, and sent a generous $2,000 worth of Walmart gift cards for Christmas. Dr. Lavigne then distributed the gift cards to certain patients. “She told me that she had some patients that their parents were taking care of their children, and she would give them the gift cards for the children to have a nice Christmas,” said Schroder.

The duo's next trip is planned for May 15, 2015. They are currently collecting items to fill personal care bags (lotion, soap, body wash, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, etc.). Additionally, Forge and Schroder plan to take any donated new or gently used shoes to Pikeville in May.

Schroder's personal experience with cancer has provided her an insight into the exact items that would benefit Pikeville residents during treatments. Like previously mentioned, a lot of this comes down to wants and needs. According to Schrdoer, “The reason we decided to collect the personal care items is because this is a need that is put second to food. Lotion is needed for your skin during radiation. Many patients wouldn't buy lotion if food is a need for them. Dr. Lavigne said the patients are so surprised and thankful for the gift bag. The people there are a proud people. They would never ask for help but are glad to accept.”

Schroder and Forge wouldn't be able to fulfill their mission to help Pikeville without the help family, friends, and the Fort Thomas community as a whole. “Janet and I are so blessed with family and friends who have stepped up to donate to our cause. I try to talk about it wherever I go and whoever I meet. Also, Facebook has been amazing. Just by putting my requests out there, things just show up on my porch. It's like the loaves and the fishes,” said Schroder. Forge attributes much of their success in gathering donations to Schroder's leadership. “It all comes down to Tammy's heart of gold. The city of Fort Thomas, the friends, the church fellowship, everyone who knows Tammy has had such a response of heartfelt generosity,” said Forge. If you are interested in donating items for Pikeville, Schroder can be reached at 859-781-2412. Donated items can then be dropped off at her house on Memory Lane. 

Looking to the future, Schroder isn't sure where this project will take her, but she does know that she will continue to help the people of Pikeville. “I told Dr Lavigne that as long as she is in Pikeville, I will continue to see her and I will never come down with an empty car,” said Schroder.

Schroder's mission to help Pikeville's needy is just as much a testament to friendship as it is to strength, survival, and giving back. Forge and Schroder were able to take a truly horrible situation, and extract inspiration and kindness from it.   

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