Cancer Connection Idaho: 5 years old with lots of new partners

Participants in The Cancer Connection Idaho retreats at the LaJoie home in Eagle spend a day communing with the animals and fresh air. The family has organized three retreats since 2015, with more to come.
Participants in The Cancer Connection Idaho retreats at the LaJoie home in Eagle spend a day communing with the animals and fresh air. The family has organized three retreats since 2015, with more to come. The Cancer Connection Idaho

The Cancer Connection Idaho opened its doors in Boise in 2011 after its founders recognized that people in the local community had access to fine medical care, but they needed other supports as well — good talk, good food, a safe audience and a sense of healthy spirit found through arts such as meditation, yoga and writing.

Supported by private donations, the St. Luke’s Community Health Improvement Fund and other grants, The Cancer Connection Idaho offers integrative medicine programs for people with cancer as well as their family, friends and other co-survivors.

“Sometimes you don’t want to go to something new and scary by yourself. Cancer means stresses for everybody involved,” said Kristen Venable, executive director.

Now, marking its fifth birthday, the nonprofit has begun a new chapter and a new way of thinking about its programs. The goal is reaching as many people as efficiently as possible.

“One location isn’t necessarily good for all people,” Venable said.

So Cancer Connection Idaho downsized. It gave up its lease on its first home, an office on Kootenai Street, and moved into a smaller State Street location. Currently, a breast and gynecological cancer support group is the sole group meeting at that office. Otherwise, The Cancer Connection Idaho offers programs off-site thanks to partnerships with groups that have a similar mission to promote holistic well-being.

Through a partnership with Boise Public Library, for example, people experiencing cancer can drop in to Moments in Mindfulness, a low-pressure program that meets every Tuesday at the Main Branch. Each session offers discussion on a different, not-cancer-related but cancer-relevant topic, such as stress reduction, as well as meditation.

“It’s not a huge commitment but a great way for people to sample mindfulness,” said Venable, who has herself attended the program, which asks for a $5 suggested donation. “I’ve been able to connect with people on a more personal level, hear others’ insights.”

Health in motion; power of the pen

Partnerships extend well beyond the library. Rather than hosting healing movement programs such as yoga and qigong (pronounced chee-gong) in its own space, The Cancer Connection Idaho works with studios such as Yoga for Wellness on ParkCenter and Yoga in the Hood on 16th Street to offer classes for people experiencing cancer, from a restorative yoga class during the lunch hour to a gentle yoga class suited for beginners and others.

“We’re trying to have strategic locations and times,” said Venable.

The Cancer Connection Idaho sponsors one four-week session of healing movement for each client. When that time is up, the instructors the connection works with offer sliding scales.

“Finances would still not be a barrier,” said Venable. “Healing movement is a great way to get people in and say, ‘Please take care of yourself.’ ”

Cancer Connection Idaho received a grant from the Idaho Women’s Charitable Foundation to support Write from the Heart, a writing program for teenagers with cancer that this year drew 94 young writers who shared their experiences. Cancer Connection Idaho works with the Boise State Writing Project to offer mentors for the young writers to help them flesh out and develop their stories through a five-week curriculum. Cancer Connection Idaho and the university will offer the teen program again in 2017 but haven’t decided on a date. You can read the project’s award-winning essays online at cancerconnectionidaho.org.

Giving back to the community

The Cancer Connections Idaho partnerships include those in the private community. Deena LaJoie, a dietician who lives in Eagle with her family, opens her home for free half-day retreats for Cancer Connection Idaho participants. LaJoie got involved with the nonprofit through her friend Andy Simonds, a Cancer Connection Idaho founder who died from a brain tumor.

“A little over three years ago, we moved to Eagle, to a beautiful home in a beautiful 5-acre setting. We thought, we’re lucky enough to live here. There must be a way to give some of this back,” LaJoie said.

So in honor of her friend, she invites people in for a day of communion with horses, goats, fresh air and a community meal sourced from her garden. Venable has invited yoga and other teachers to the retreats, and LaJoie has shared her knowledge of nutrition. She serves a menu based on anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory foods, including salmon, quinoa, fruits and vegetables, dark leafy greens and healthy oils such as olive and avocado.

“It’s so awesome having people here,” said LaJoie. “We’re hoping to get more kids and families involved, and significant others. Because they’re often working with this disease as well.”

“We try to make a big effort to make the day not be about cancer. It’s a day to forget.”

Cancer Connection Idaho also has a new partnership with River Discovery, a nonprofit offering outdoor adventures for people touched by cancer. The partnership will help both groups expand their reach and pool resources to help more people.

Cancer Connection Idaho will also host a winter wellness workshop, dates yet to be determined. The idea is to introduce people to the benefits of well-being activities, a myriad in one place.

“Like qigong. If you don’t know what that is, you don’t know that you should try it,” said Venable. “We want to offer a sampling, a little bit of everything we offer.”

On the calendar now:

Free Nutrition Demo: “Health Holiday Sides,” Cancer Connection Idaho in partnership with Natural Grocers, 5:30 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 15, at Natural Grocers, 1195 N. Milwaukee St. Learn to make cranberry salsa, Brussels sprouts au gratin and roasted vegetables. You’ll get to taste samples of all the dishes. Register online and learn more about Cancer Connection Idaho programs at cancerconnectionidaho.org.