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Survivors who care 

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When Elaine Gardiner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997, she was filled with questions. “I really thought it would be nice to talk to someone, and I didn’t know a soul with ovarian cancer,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner eventually found comfort and answers by talking to a breast cancer survivor about her experiences. “Sometimes it is just nice to have someone to unload on that has been through it,” Gardiner said. “Just talking to someone that has been through it can give you a lot of hope.”

 In November 2005, Gardiner retired from teaching and founded a group that connects people over the phone who have cancer, further providing for others that sense of hope she had found so comforting. “When you aren’t feeling good and dealing with the after effects of chemo and don’t want to leave your house, but want to talk to someone about what you are going through, that is what we do,” she said.

Cancer Connections has just over 40 volunteers who all have completed their cancer treatment and want to support people newly diagnosed with the disease. “It is a group of people who have all had cancer who are willing to speak to others diagnosed with cancer on a one-on-one basis,” Gardiner said. “The neatest group of people I have ever met; they live all over the county, both men and women.”

Cancer Connections tries to match each caller with someone who has had the same type of cancer as they do, or who has undergone the same type of treatment. “Almost always we are able to match a caller with someone who has had that same type of cancer or treatment,” Cancer Connections Volunteer Cathrin Eckle explained. “I usually get the people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or seeking peripheral stem-cell transplants.”

Cancer Connection is not a nonprofit organization.

“We are a self-supporting grassroots group and not a tax deductible,” Gardiner said. “This would not be an organization if we didn’t have all the wonderful people that have dealt with cancer involved. They show people going through it now that they are not alone.”

Cancer Connections is completely free and confidential. It also offers support for spouses of cancer patients.

Gardiner acknowledges that everyone deals with cancer differently and often makes referrals if they do not offer what someone is looking for, like group discussions.

“I think that all of the support groups in the area are very effective in what they do,” Eckle said. “I think that at Cancer Connections we just share what our experience was.”

Eckle is proud to be have been involved with Cancer Connections when she was battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.“It brings meaning to my experience, and the validation that I went through this, and now I can share it and help someone else,” Eckle said.

Though Cancer Connections offers no medical advice, volunteers are often good sources for tips on getting through chemo therapy. “Sleep with two pillows, and switch off between the two so one is always cold; it helps with hot flashes,” Eckle said. “In a professional setting someone might not even think of that. I give tremendous value and respect to people who work professionally with cancer patients, but they may not have had cancer.”

Cancer Connections of San Luis Obispo County can be reached at 235-2997 or

Fast facts

United Way of San Luis Obispo announces the return of the Innovation Award. Last awarded in 2005, the Innovation Award recognizes a local not-for-profit organization for creative approaches and programs that provide value to the SLO County community in the areas of education, income, and health. The recipient of the award will be considered on three points: lasting change, practical collaboration, and internal transformation. A $5000 cash award will be given to the organization with the greatest display of the three qualities.

The Innovation Award emphasizes creative and effective approaches that utilize a variety of resources and partnerships within, and outside, the nonprofit community. Nominees demonstrate an organizational ability to adapt to the changing condition in our communities to meet critical social needs.

A description of the award criteria and a nomination form are available online at The deadline for nominations is 4 p.m. on Friday, April 17. The award will be announced on or around June 1 and the recipient will be presented with the award at the United Way Annual Recognition Event on June 18. For more information, contact Charlene Rosales at 
541-1234 Ext. 14 ...

French Hospital Medical Center recently opened the hospital’s new Fitness Zone. The new Fitness Zone is the first of its kind in a hospital setting in SLO County. It is open for all community members, hospital visitors, and FHMC staff, completely free of charge. It features 11 exercise stations suitable for all fitness levels. The exercise equipment targets leg strength, cardiovascular fitness, core stability, upper body strength, and balance.

Visit or contact Megan Maloney at 542-6498.

Interns Bridget Veltri and Clinton McGue compiled Strokes&Plugs. Send business and nonprofit news to


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