By: Molly English-Bowers
It’s difficult to find anyone who has not been touched by cancer in some way. Whether the ill person is a family member or friend, a co-worker or even yourself, cancer of all types is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
For Susan Bertrand, the death of her sister Maureen from a rare form of cancer has brought her in touch with thousands of people who either had or have cancer, or know someone that does. Her non-profit foundation, Maureen’s Hope, based in Baldwinsville, uses purple as its symbolic color, because, Bertrand says, “purple is the color that represents all cancers.” Indeed, sitting in her compact but centrally located office at the main intersection in Baldwinsville, Bertrand is surrounded with all things’ aubergine. The foundation’s logo is that color, and the hue dominates the decorations inside the two-room office. Bertrand’s desk dominates the front room, while a workspace occupies the back room. There she stores fund-raising supplies, jewelry for mailing and other items she is preparing to sell or donate, all affiliated with the foundation.
Bertrand started the Maureen’s Hope Foundation after her sister died on Jan. 19, 2003. She struggled with clear cell adenocarcinoma, a very rare and aggressive cervical cancer that starts in the glands, for nearly two years. Maureen’s Hope Foundation was established in 2004, managing it out of her Baldwinsville home before moving six years ago to 44 Oswego St. Here she directs the foundation that counts among its outreach programs:
Beads of Courage, is for children with cancer or Cystic Fibrosis that are at the Golisano Children’s Hospital. When a child is diagnosed, he or she receives a leather lanyard with a hook on one end and on which they string beads. Each bead represents a chemotherapy session or any other milestone treatment. “They end up with a strand of beads that tells each particular child’s story,” Bertrand says. “It’s a visual of what they went through.” The hook is so the child can hang his or her strand on the IV pole. They have also given more than 1,600 personalized baskets to adults who are hospitalized with cancer. These baskets are filled by volunteers, topped with a purple bow and delivered with some of Maureen’s favorite items, a blanket, a book, a journal, lip balm. “We fill each basket with all those things you need when you’re in the hospital,” Bertrand explains. “It’s a little something, but when you don’t know what to do for someone, if you can brighten their day, a basket makes a difference.”
“You and Me Bears help comfort children. Cancer is tough on the entire family, and if a sick child has a sibling at home it’s likely that brother or sister feels that absence. The children receive a bag with two stuffed bears, one for the hospitalized child and the other for the sibling. This program got a huge boost a few years ago when the Dave Matthews Band got involved after Bertrand shared a story about it on Twitter and the band’s bassist, Stefan Lessard, picked up on it. Ultimately, Dave Matthews sponsored the program at Golisano for two years.
Inspirational jewelry, including Pennies from Heaven and a sterling silver line. “My sister wore a funky bracelet from Chico’s,” Bertrand says. “The nurses would talk about the bracelet instead of her illness.” The Pennies from Heaven bracelet features a shiny coin held by a sterling silver chain.
ATMS for Good. Currently, two Baldwinsville restaurants, the B’Ville Diner and Basta on the River, donate ATM fees they would have received from the customer’s bank to Maureen’s Hope.
All funds that are raised go right back into the foundation. “I don’t fund research,” Bertrand says. “I look at what people need today: What do you need? How can I help you? I provide practical support—everyone’s needs are different. I heard from a local gentleman who is battling cancer, and he wondered how he was going to plow his driveway this winter. So we’re going to pay for his snow removal service.”
Other practical items Maureen’s Hope has helped with are a wig for a chemotherapy patient, meals, even a cleaning service. “Most of our funds come through sponsorships or personal donations,” she says.
The organization also holds an annual Spa Day for Moms of children with cancer at Turning Stone Casino’s Skana. “It’s our third year of the spa day, and in 2016, we’re going to hold one for men,” Bertrand says.
Maureen’s Hope has received funding from the Jim & Julie Boeheim Foundation, UPS and Walmart and in-kind support from Anheuser-Busch InBev, where her husband Ron works as a manager. Once again, in 2016, the foundation is selling tickets for the Syracuse Auto Dealers Charity Preview, one of the largest charity events in Central New York. That formal event takes place Feb. 10 at the OnCenter, 800 S. State St., Syracuse. As part of the educational outreach to the Baldwinsville community, Bertrand also founded a youth club. It is open to students in grades 9 through 12 and has about 80 active members. The students provide additional grass-roots support to those with cancer by raking leaves, decorating at Christmastime, baking cookies and more.
While she would rather have her sister alive and well, Bertrand acknowledges that Maureen’s death sparked her compassion. “I wouldn’t have the passion for helping people if my sister hadn’t died of cancer,” she says. “Through our adversities in life is where we find our strength.”
Learn more about Maureen’s Hope Foundation at www.maureenshope.org.
Call (315) 243-6918 or email