Franklin Park cancer survivor reaches back to help those on journey with same disease
September 18, 2014 12:00 AM
By Kathleen Ganster
Marlene Fritsch believes in grace. She also believes in helping others to reach their full potential. And it is those beliefs that helped her on her journey with cancer, which began with a breast cancer diagnosis in 1996.
“I had actually suspected it a year or so before, but when I went to the doctor, I was told there was no cause for concern,” she said.
A practicing Catholic, Ms. Fritsch said while at church during Holy Week, right before her diagnosis, she felt “an invitation to grace.”
“I just was filled with an overwhelming sense of grace and thought, ‘I can do this, it is fine,’ and went to my doctor and said that I needed a mammogram,” she said.
But it wasn’t that easy. Due to a glitch in her insurance, Ms. Fritsch was told that she would have to pay out of pocket for the mammogram, something she wasn’t able to do at the time. Worried about the time she would lose getting her insurance problem resolved, she told the hospital that she needed the mammogram right away.
“And that was a moment of grace right there for me, it was already a growth for me. In the past, I would have just left, but I knew I didn’t have time,” she said. And then an employee of the hospital asked her to wait for a minute. After a few calls, she had arranged for Ms. Fritsch to have services through the American Cancer Society.
“She had vouchers for everything, the mammogram and the sonogram, and I had them read right away. This wonderful woman just helped me out. There are really good people out there, wherever you go,” she said.
Her medical news, unfortunately, wasn’t good. Once again, Ms. Fritsch reached out to others asking for help to find a breast cancer expert.
“I had friends who were doctors and they helped me find a specialist,” she said.
In her treatment, Ms. Fritsch had a lumpectomy and all of her lymph nodes removed, chemotherapy and radiation. As the single mother of three teenage daughters — Kristi was 19, Karla 17, and Natalie 13 — it was a difficult time for more reasons than just the treatment. But it was something Natalie told her that, in Ms. Fritsch’s words, was “…incredibly healing to me as a woman.”
One day, as Ms. Fritsch began losing her hair, a large clump came out in her hand. As Natalie passed by, she asked her daughter what she wanted her mother to do – wear a wig or wear scarves. Natalie told her mother that it was her hair so she could do what she wanted. “You’re mom,” the teen told her. “Meaning that hair or no hair, it didn’t change who I am. I truly felt my worth as a woman at that moment,” Ms. Fritsch said.
Flash forward 17 years and Ms. Fritsch, now considered in remission, said there are some days that she forgets about her cancer.
“I look back and think about it, it was an invitation to grace. Because of my cancer, I became closer to who I am,” said Ms. Fritsch, 61, of Franklin Park.
Through her experience with the disease, Ms. Fritsch said, she became healthier overall, including practicing dance, yoga, Pilates and meditation. Now a certified instructor in all of these practices, Ms. Fritsch started her own business, Essence of Freedom.
She and her daughter, Kristi Gibilisco, a professional dancer, also have provided “sacred dance” workshops and classes. Their work, she said, helps her help others.
“I want to help others live their lives to the fullest,” she said.
One of the ways she reaches out to others is by teaching yoga to those facing cancer and to cancer survivors through the Cancer Caring Center on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield.
“If I can help someone going through cancer or any other challenges, then I am living my life to its fullest potential as well. And that, I believe, is living with grace,” she said.
Her yoga sessions are healing for others facing cancer, said Stefanie Samolovitch, director of support services at the center.
“We had one client come in who was crying and had had a horrible day. After yoga with Marlene, she left smiling and saying how much better she felt about everything — it was a complete transformation — that is what she gives them,” she said.
The fact that Ms. Fritsch is a cancer survivor makes her work even more important, Ms. Samolovitch said.
“To know the ins and outs of yoga and the benefits is one thing, but to know the ins and outs as a cancer survivor and how yoga helped her is entirely different and takes the classes to a whole new level,” she said.
Ms. Fritsch doesn’t look back at her cancer journey with anger.
“It is hard to explain, but going through cancer was a very challenging, but beautiful experience. It helped get me to where I am now,” she said.
For more information about the Cancer Caring Center and Ms. Fritsch’s yoga classes: cancercaring.org.
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