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Six years ago, Karen Dillaman and her partner Jo Ploeger needed help. The Bloomfield couple found themselves in the doubly-dangerous predicament that both women were dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Though they had each other, they also knew they could rely on friends in their church, Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit in Ferndale, to provide some comfort and care.
They soon realized that they weren’t the only ones, and several others in the congregation were facing the deadly disease as well.
“It seemed like we needed a way to get together,” Dillaman said. The name for the support group the women founded, Walking Together, is because people in the congregation stood up and moved forward.
Though the group raises money for Relay for Life and other cancer-fighting causes, there really isn’t much literal walking involved. “It’s more of a symbolic name, metaphysical,” she said. They meet once a month, plus they have other activities. “We try to be well-balanced. For example we’re spending today making strudel to sell. We take orders at the church. We make them frozen and the weekend before Thanksgiving we deliver them so people can have a nice easy breakfast on Thanksgiving morning.”
They’ve also done dinner parties, picnics, a murder mystery and other outings. An annual dog wash at Bubble and Bark gives them a chance to enjoy being around animals and each other, plus they donate the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. Their biggest event is the annual Relay for Life, where they walk for 24 hours to raise money to fight cancer.
“I’ve had two early stage cancers. Both are considered cured now,” Dillaman said. “My partner was diagnosed with stage three lung cancer 12 years ago. At that time (6 years ago), she was being treated and they found a spot in her breast. It was stage three breast cancer. Now she is at stage four. She’s got a lifelong journey at this point.
“When it’s time for her hospital visits, the group is there. When you need somebody to cut the grass, to cook dinner or walk the dog, these people are there.”
In addition to activities and help with chores, the Walking Together group members also share resources, experience and advice. It’s grown to a supportive network of about 15 people who have gone through cancer diagnosis, other diseases, or have been a caregiver or loved one of someone with a life-threatening illness. “There are people to talk to that know what it’s like. They’ve been there,” Dillaman said. “You got a guy that’s got prostate cancer, and three other guys have been through it. Gives them someone to talk to.”
Walking Together is open to anybody, not just members of the church. For more information call the MCC offices at 248-882-0464, or visit online at http://www.mccdetroit.org.