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Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Woman's Life Passion: Volunteering and Helping People with Cancer

Darcelle O'Connor and LynnMarie Boltze
If she hears the word cancer or chemotherapy LynnMarie Boltze, 51 of Largo stops in her tracks and will give you a 30 second elevator speech about a nonprofit organization she volunteers for that helps people with cancer.  
It’s just in her blood. Boltze is and always has been a person with a passion for caring for others.

Ever since she was 10 years old she has been volunteering and taking care of people. She lights up when she talks about what she does as a volunteer. Her first volunteer job was in a convalescent at 10 years old. She then went on to be a candy striper and in her adult life volunteered with the American Cancer Society and Faces of Courage.
It’s just something Boltze loves to do. “If I could just volunteer full-time, I would do that, but I have to pay the bills,” says Boltze who also has a full-time job.

Boltze is no stranger to cancer, in 1992, she lost her grandmother to breast cancer. Two years later, in 1994, she lost her mother to breast cancer. Her mother was only 64 years old. Boltze was just 31 at the time. “It’s my passion because it is not only touched my life, but it’s sadly touching friend’s lives.”
Boltze is a Florida native, born and raised. She says she was the first one in her circle of friends to have someone close have cancer and die from it.  After her mom died, she says it seemed like others would lean on her for support and information. She says friends wanted to know how my family dealt with my mom’s cancer, how it affected us and how long a person lived once told they had cancer.

Boltze says she was honest with her friends. Twenty years ago, you didn’t have support groups like you do now. And the information about cancer wasn’t as easily accessible like today. When her mom was first diagnosed with cancer she relied on American Cancer Society for help. As the cancer progressed her family had Lifepaht Hospice of Tampa at their side.
 “In my mom’s case the doctor gave my mom 3 months, but we were blessed to get 6 months,” said Boltze.

Even though her mom died from cancer rather quickly, she says she reminded her friends that not everyone with cancer has a death sentence.
And for the past 14 years, Boltze continues to remind people through the nonprofit organization Faces of Courage that cancer can be beat. This Tampa Bay area organization founded by a breast cancer survivor, Peggie Sherry, provides free camps and events for women and children with cancer or blood illnesses. “I love what I do. Now, I try and become more like a resource for people,” says Boltze.

Faces of Courage Camp 2013
One of the big event Faces of Courage offers is a three day camp for women. It was just held September 6-8 in Brandon. About 115 women with all different cancers including women in remission attended the camp.
“At camp we try to hold onto there is life after cancer and it is very beatable.”
One person who attends the camp is a friend of Boltze and breast cancer survivor.  She is 55 year old Darcelle O’Connor, who had two different types of breast cancer.  Boltze met O’Connor when she had just finished chemotherapy. O’Connor had a mastectomy and started reconstruction on her right breast. Boltze says O’Connor told her the doctor wasn’t going to reconstruct the left breast because she had an 80 % chance of the cancer coming back and wouldn’t reconstruct for 3-5 years. Boltze couldn’t believe she wasn’t able to have the other breast reconstructed and convinced O’Connor to see another doctor. Last year she had her breast reconstructed and according to Boltze is so happy. O’Connor calls Boltze her “Angel sent from God.”

Boltze knows what it is like, to a degree to lose a breast. At age 17 doctors found masses on her breast and she had the right one removed. It didn’t end up being cancer, but it was such a traumatic thing to go through at a young age. For years she had to have mammograms done every 6 months. Boltze says even though she lost a breast, she never had to go through what these women have had to with hearing the words, “You have cancer.”
Boltze has to deal with death more than most people. As a volunteer she has seen many success stories over the years of cancer survivors, but sadly has seen people pass away.  She says death is a part of life and she’s learned how to deal with death. “I pray, hold them, to talk to God and thank God for letting me be in the transition as they go back to be with their Maker.” She thinks of being there for someone’s death as a privilege and honor. Over the years she says she has become so close to so many people at the camp. One in particular is a 37 year old friend she has known for 6 years, a friend who calls her “big sis.” This friend wasn’t able to attend the camp this past September because she was in the hospital battling her 3rd bout with cancer as it came back.
The friendships she has made and helping people as they battle serious illnesses is something Boltze won’t ever give up. She volunteers because it helps her put life in perspective. “It makes me realize when I have a bad day, I don’t have a bad day, I have a great day. I feed off of them and they are my reward,” says Boltze.
A reward that is a two-way street because of a passion that involves caring for others. 
Here are some sites you can take a look at to learn more about Faces of Courage:
Here is a wonderful video a friend of mine Jim Webb, owner of The Webb Works Video Productions, put together with some of the women from bodies of courage and their stories.

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