LESLIE’S WEEK: Nonprofit Gifts Vacations Away from Cancer
LESLIE’S WEEK is about Memories. Memories are 4ever!
Stage 4 Breast Cancer women spend the majority of their Stage 4 lives in cancer therapies, clinical trials, and hospitals. Their families are in Financial Toxicity from the demands of cancer treatments. “Normalcy” is no longer recognizable in their lives. Receiving a diagnosis of Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer changes everything – holiday plans with family, career path, attending kid’s and grandkid’s events, retirement with your spouse. Plans you were looking forward to taking on suddenly have a new perspective. Shock aside, your life has careened into a journey you never thought you would take. Visits to hospitals and oncologists, enduring cancer treatments and procedures such as chemo and radiation, seeking support and strength, feeling ill and tired —all become the new norm.
One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. This year, an estimated 41,760 women will die from breast cancer in the U.S. On average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States. Breast cancer in the United States is the most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity. Stage 4 Breast Cancer women do their best to have a positive outlook and put on a brave face, often being the strength for the rest of the family. Planning for end-of-life becomes a necessity and every moment lived becomes precious beyond measure.
Memories are 4ever
One such brave soul was Leslie Twohig, who battled inflammatory triple-negative breast cancer that had metastasized to her bones. She passed away in 2011, leaving her children, grandchildren, and husband behind. Despite her diagnosis, she was a positive force to those around her, and she became the inspiration of LESLIE’S WEEK, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt charitable organization with a mission to bring Fun, Happiness, and Memories to Stage 4 Breast Cancer women and their families.
Inspired by her friend’s courageous battle with cancer, Sandra Gunn founded the idea of LESLIE’S WEEK in 2011. Gunn, herself, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2013, and this became the impetus for pouring her energy into LESLIE’S WEEK. Her goal was to gift vacations to Stage 4 MBC women and their families. Spreading the word within cancer communities she increased awareness and having garnered some donors, a few sponsors, and many enthusiastic volunteers, she successfully launched her vision for this tax-exempt nonprofit in 2014.
“I decided I was going to do something for Stage 4 Breast Cancer women who are the least considered women in the breast cancer community because they are terminal,” Gunn says in an interview with a local news station.
LESLIE’S WEEK hosts its annual vacation away from cancer at the 5-star Dollywood DreamMore Resort.
Vacationing Away from Cancer
Gunn says, “We began in 2011 with donating my cabin in the woods, we grew to several vacation homes in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains in 2012, 2013, and 2014. We expanded to include donated hotel resort stays and other vacation homes. The organization started with one family from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, five families were honored with more honorees added each year after that. In 2019, 30 families from 18 states were hosted by LESLIE’S WEEK at the 5-star Dollywood DreamMore Resort, including returning Honoree Alums at their own expense. To date, LESLIE’S WEEK has hosted more than 108 Stage 4 MBC women and their families from more than 35 states. Their vacation days are filled with uplifting activities and relaxation for honorees and family members. They receive donated tickets to Dollywood, Splash Country, and other local venues. In 2019, LESLIE’S WEEK added the Windy Hill Farm BEND-OF-THE-RIVER BBQ & MUSIC FESTIVAL. What a time they had!
Programs with Deep Intention
Our LESLIE’S WEEK Stage 4 Breast Cancer women are nominated by third-party breast cancer centers from around the country and through the LESLIE’S WEEK website. In August of each year, LESLIE’S WEEK hosts its annual event, LESLIE’S WEEK Vacations Away from Cancer.
LESLIE’S WEEK has a program for each member of our Stage 4 Breast Cancer families. The first day includes a Welcome Reception where they all meet each other, eat breakfast, and gather to become informed of the LESLIE’S WEEK experience. The afternoon is for the Programs for each family member. The CIRCLE4STAGE4 is for Stage 4 BC women. This is where the moderator encourages discussion between all women. It generally centers around their disease, medical experiences, clinical trials, side effects of the many drugs that are prescribed, and their raw emotional feelings. They discover they are not alone.
The CLUB4KIDS is an art experience for the children 17 and younger. The children are traumatized by their mother’s disease. They become the “Watchers” as her health is in decline. The art experience places them in a diverse group of kids who walk in the same shoes.
HANDS4GIVERS is a forum designed specifically to open a dialogue between husbands who are isolated and emotionally torn. Their discussions generally revolve around financial instability, sexual issues, an emotional imbalance with their wives. and other topics they are unable to discuss with wives and family. LESLIE’S WEEK creates a HANDS4GIVERS closed Facebook page for them to use to communicate with each other after they return home.
A new program, CONCERT4KIDS, features regional musicians with proceeds and donations going to the LESLIE’S KIDS Educational Assistance Fund for the LESLIE’S WEEK Honorees KIDS. Children from birth to age 12, who have attended LESLIE’S WEEK, are eligible for the educational assistance fund. Children receive funding if they go on to higher education. The grants are in their mother’s name, so the child knows she helped to educate them.
One Woman’s Passion
Gunn and her work have received considerable media coverage and award recognition. She became one of ten 2016 L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Honorees. Massachusetts General Cancer Center awarded her as one of the 100 Everyday Amazing Groups or Individuals in 2015. She won the DeCesaris Cancer Institute’s Fire and Soul award in 2014. In 2017, Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine named LESLIE’S WEEK the Community Breast Cancer nonprofit of the Year. Gunn was awarded a Community Impact Grant for Breast Cancer Awareness in 2018 by Medline Industries.
Gunn is bilingual and earned her BA from the University of Florida and her MA from Auburn University. An award-winning author, her latest book, TERMINAL, features insights from 43 of LESLIE’S WEEK Stage 4 Breast Cancer women and family members. TERMINAL won the 2019 Living Now Book Competition Award Bronze Medal in the Grief and Dying Category.
Working with tireless compassion, Gunn has made it her mission to make the end-of-life transition a happy time spent with family. In an interview with Cindy May Marketing, Gunn shares, “I remember my mother telling me a long time ago, ‘Memories are the only things you have left before you pass – nothing else matters.’” —words we can all live by. To learn more about LESLIE’S WEEK and how you can help, visit lesliesweek.org.