Our community is filled with inspiring and philanthropic people. Here at Chuckanut Health Foundation we feel honored when mission driven generous individuals join our board. One such person is Abbe Rolnick. Abbe, owner of Robek’s Fresh Juices/Smoothies & Healthy Eats, is also a novelist, world traveler, life learner, board member and so much more.
Abbe wanted to raise support to help people living with cancer pay for their medical expenses. For the month of March, every time you purchase a smoothie and mention “Chuckanut”, Robek’s will make a donation to the Laurendeau Cancer Care Fund.
The Laurendeau Cancer Care Fund, at Chuckanut Health Foundation, was created in 1980 with a gift from the late Dr. Theresa Laurendeau, a Bellingham physician, who knew first hand that costly prolonged cancer care is both emotionally and financially difficult for both patients and their families. Today the fund helps Whatcom County cancer patients not only with their medical expenses but with connections to other resources.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Abbe and she graciously allowed us a peek into her life and why she wants to give back to her community.
Let’s set the stage for our readers, how long you have been on the CHF board and what initially interested you to join?
I’m not sure. I think it has been about five years. I wasn’t aware of CHF until Sue Sharpe and other board members solicited me. Funny, it must have been my interest in health, marketing, and connecting to the community. I had worked at a large corporation where they made custom bracing for children with various disabilities. I took a lead role there, and then when I went out on my own and started Robeks, suddenly I appeared from behind a desk and was in the public view. Sue shared with me the vision of CHF and it filled a void that I didn’t know I had missing.
Are there areas of our mission that you connect with more than others?
Two things have guided me for the last fifteen years in becoming an effective and contributing person in society—I realized that one needed their health and education. Without one, the other became impossible. All my efforts fit under that umbrella. Most of the issues in society are caused because of our failures in these areas. We have to start in the schools, and venture into the communities and work with the health needs and use the issues as stepping stones to solutions. I worry about the young and the aged not only in a heart-felt way, but because most of the population doesn’t understand structurally how health, education and financial stability is linked. We have failed to explain the infrastructure, and even those who are educated, don’t pay attention to what lies behind health, and true learning.
Outside of being a board member for CHF you are also a business owner and an author. Can you tell us about your recent book?
Ah, to ask an author to talk about their latest work is dangerous, for they can go on and on. I’m a novelist, but I think you’re asking about the book I wrote in 2016 called, Cocoon of Cancer: An Invitation to Love Deeply. This was an unexpected book and departed from my fiction for it was a book about my husband’s cancer. Written as a love story and a guide to how one faces the emotional, financial, and medical stresses, I tell the story as the caregiver, and my husband speaks his truth as the patient. The banter is real, somehow reassuring, and both humorous and painful. At the end of the book, I give advice and answer questions on how to deal with the medical world as well as personal issues.
In your book you share that your experiences caring for your husband while he was receiving cancer treatment. Can you tell us more about that, what were the challenges that you faced?
Besides shock, fear, anger and love, the biggest issue was making sure Jim had the best treatment. Then it was putting together a team of helpers, fixing our financial situation so that we could survive the years journey, and also finding a place to live in Seattle for eight months.
What was your biggest challenge? As a support person and together as a couple?
Juggling the roles of a caregiver, wife, friend, financial administrator, health advocate, and remaining strong and human, while you are scared and vulnerable, kept me focused. Jim and I talked honestly. We were vocal with our families and friends. During the hardest parts, you don’t have time to think or feel. But when there is a lull, it is easy to slip into despair. This is where as an individual and a couple, you must define your weaknesses, your needs, and find who is able to aid. Loving was simple. I was lucky because I had a voice and was able to articulate our needs.
What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?
I use the word “cocoon” in the title as a way of describing the new world you enter into that leaves behind those that don’t have cancer. I found a sense of parity, with those in the waiting rooms of the cancer hospital and doctor offices. No matter the culture, color of skin, economic stature, age—all the patients and caregivers had a bond. Those that could communicate their feelings and needs, suffered less.
What is it about our Laurendeau Cancer Care Fund that interests/inspires you?
One of the things that helped my husband Jim during the chemo treatments and stem cell transplant was having a nutritious smoothie every day. I had Robeks freeze smoothies and a friend would shuttle them to Seattle. I want to be able to help those dealing with cancer, both financially and nutritiously. I believe Laurendeau Cancer Care Fund, helps those with their financial issues, confusion on the medical care system and the basics of immediate care. The fund gives voice to those overwhelmed with the process, educates about care, and offers hope.
Is there anything you would have done differently (in regards to cancer services or resources) if you knew then what you know now?
Everyone should have healthcare. We were lucky that the Affordable Care Act was in play, so that there was no financial cap to Jim’s care. Financially we would have been ruined as his bills reached close to a million dollars. We used the services of the hospital and social services to make sure we were aware of all possibilities. Keep your pride in abeyance. Voice your needs. Make sure you aren’t isolated.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
Most people couldn’t advise me. Cancer scared them. However, I was raised to be proactive. We already had our wills made out. We had a what-if plan for end of life. We made sure that we lived each day with joy. But this is impossible if you are overwhelmed with financial and emotional fears. Get educated. Breath, swim, walk. For me writing, saved me. I was able to understand my emotions.
What’s next for you?
I continue to focus on living. Jim and I make sure we do what we love. He is healthy, but we still live within the “cocoon”. The side effects of cancer are with you forever. Adapting is a partnership.
It’s almost impossible to cover everything with these questions. Is there anything else you would like to share now?
I’m passionate about learning and taking responsibility. Cancer isn’t anyone’s fault. But we need to make sure that everyone understands options, and has a chance to survive. Living is learning, taking action, and caring.
You can help support this campaign. For the next month, every time you purchase a smoothie and mention “Chuckanut” at this location, Robeks will make a donation to the Laurendeau Cancer Care Fund.