SOMERS, N.Y. – Both Ginny Allison-Novotny and Dottie McHugh turned tragedy into hope by battling through bleak cancer diagnoses. Now, the women do all they can to help the organization that helped them when they needed it the most.
For their efforts, the two Somers residents will be awarded with Support Connection’s Spirit of Hope Award at its Spring Benefit on Friday, April 7, at Villa Barone Hilltop Manor in Mahopac.
The award, which honors people who offer inspiration to other cancer survivors, will be handed out as part of Support Connection’s Spirit Awards, which are given each year to honor those who demonstrate dedication to the organization’s mission by providing inspiration, time, talent and other resources.
Allison-Novotny attended her first Support-A-Walk, the organization’s largest annual fundraiser, in September 2011 in support of her friend, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Just two weeks later, when Allison-Novotny was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she knew exactly where to turn.
“My world turned upside down,” she said. “It was like a hurricane hitting. My family, friends and husband were supportive, but I really needed another anchor out there.”
She called Support Connection, which offers peer-to-peer counseling. All counselors at the organization are breast or ovarian cancer survivors, which Allison-Novotny said is important. From the first phone call, she said, she was shown only “knowledge and love.”
“[The counselor] ‘got it’ because she was also a cancer survivor,” Allison-Novotny said. “She understood the fears and anxiety that comes with a cancer diagnosis.”
Every year since her diagnosis, she has returned to Support-A-Walk as captain of Team Wish Upon a Star. Allison-Novotny was also named a Walk Ambassador for Support Connection in 2013. Though she is still undergoing chemotherapy treatment, Allison-Novotny said she has a “mission” to spread the word about Support Connection and help other women who have been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.
“I never thought I would get so much support,” she said. “It makes you feel good that you have people there for you. I try to smile as much as I can. Every day is a gift.”
McHugh reached out to Support Connection in 2005, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and has been a staunch advocate of the organization ever since. McHugh, the mother of two young children (5 and 3 at the time), said attending monthly Support Connection meetings helped her perform her role as a mother while battling the disease. McHugh has also taken advantage of the many wellness services offered by Support Connection.
“I felt so privileged to hear the stories of these courageous woman and be able to share my own story with them,” McHugh said. “There was not a Wednesday night once a month that I didn’t leave those meetings feeling so empowered.”
During this time, McHugh began participating in the annual Support-A-Walk with her team, Ann’s Avengers, named in memory of her mother-in-law, Ann McHugh, who succumbed to breast cancer six months prior to McHugh’s own diagnosis.
“She was an amazing woman who for 13 years battled her disease with such grace, dignity and strength,” McHugh said. “What I witnessed and learned from her during that time really helped me deal with my own challenges during my journey. She was an inspiration to all who new her.”
McHugh said she wants women and their families to know that there is a place to turn to for support, education and comfort. Like Allison-Novotny, she also served as a Support-A-Walk Ambassador in 2016. McHugh said she is “humbled and honored” by the award.
“To speak first-hand as someone who took advantage of their services and gained so much, I feel it is not only a privilege but my duty to inform others of how important this organization is to our communities and that all the services they are able to offer is because of generous donations they receive, especially through their annual Support-A-Walk,” McHugh said.
When Support Connection first opened its doors in July 1996, it began with just two breast and ovarian cancer support groups. Over the years, their services expanded to meet the growing and changing needs of those they serve. They now have a staff of professional peer counselors—cancer survivors themselves, who provide one-on-one education and support. Its toll-free telephone services enables them to help people across the country. The organization offers 11 different support groups, two by national toll-free teleconference, as well as a year-round calendar of programs in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties.
Other Spirit Awards recipients are: Eric and Elizabeth DiBartolo of Yorktown, Spirit of Philanthropy Award; Jane Crossley and Valerie Peyronnet of Putnam Valley, Spirit of Giving Award; Chereese Jervis-Hill of Cortlandt Manor, Maria Rubino Jennings Spirit of Caring Award; and Gary Wawrzycki of Garrison, Spirit of Community Award.
The Spring Benefit is Support Connection’s second most important annual fundraiser. Proceeds help fund its free breast and ovarian cancer support services and programs. The event begins with a cocktail reception at 7 p.m., followed by dinner, music, and dancing until 11:30 p.m.
In addition to the award presentation, there will also be a silent auction and raffles with numerous valuable prizes. To purchase tickets for the Spring Benefit, to pay tribute with a congratulatory journal ad, or to be an event sponsor, call 914-962-6402 or email email@example.com.
To learn more, visit supportconnection.org/spring-benefit.