Cancer community to kick off support network at GVSU
In 2013, about 580,350 Americans are projected to die of cancer, according to the American Cancer
Society. That’s more than double the 2012 population of Ottawa County.
The ACS also states that 1,660,290 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year. Ingrid
Johnson, a professor in the movement science department at Grand Valley State University, was one of
those new cases last year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Cancer just wasn’t on my radar so it was a pretty big shock at first,” said Johnson, who was only 41 at
She was working when she got her results. She went online but couldn’t find anything for a cancer
support group on campus—so she started her own, working closely with Sue Sloop, Work Life
consultant at GVSU’s Human Resources.
The GVSU Cancer Warriors Network had its first official kickoff event in January 2013, which some 40
people attended, Johnson said. After that, the Network hosted a few little discussions with a “come if
you want to chat” atmosphere, but this year the Network is expanding its operation.
Following the results of a survey that Johnson and a student in the statistics department created, the
Network will provide information and a social atmosphere with guest speakers who will talk about
topics like hair loss and nutrition.
“I think 2,000 people took the survey, and when we read all of those responses we were like, ‘Okay
now we know what people want,’” Johnson said.
Additionally, a silent auction, which raised about $1,000 at last year’s kickoff event, will offer items
from Michigan sports teams, artwork and more.
The Network has had support from on-campus organizations, such as the Sport Leadership Club and
Colleges Against Cancer, and strong support from the community through donated items such as gas
cards, free oil changes and gift cards.
“I know it seems strange, but these are the little things that help,” Johnson said. “I think part of why I
like to do the silent auction is because I think it’s just fun for people. We can talk serious a little bit
about cancer and we can provide resources and things like that, but I also want this kickoff event to
be a fun social time for people.”
Sloop said the Network’s focus is to offer hope and support to faculty, students and staff as they
begin their journey with cancer.
“It’s very tough to travel this road alone,” she said. “We want to take the feeling of isolation away and
offer everyone a safe place to fulfill their needs in this journey.”
Though Sloop hasn’t had cancer, she has been a caregiver for her husband, who was diagnosed with
throat cancer about three years ago. After “grueling treatment” of chemotherapy and radiation, he is
cancer free, but now Sloop’s 83-year-old mother has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“The cancer was caught early and is encapsulated, so we’re hoping for the best,” she said. “Cancer
detection has come a long way, and cancer is no longer a death sentence.”
Lauren Wagner, a senior studying social work, has been surviving cancer for two and a half years.
“I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma my freshman year here at Grand Valley and missed a
semester that year to go through chemotherapy treatment,” Wagner said.
She returned to GVSU the following fall, but it wasn’t until her junior year when she heard about the
Cancer Warriors Network.
“At the time of my diagnosis, there was not a group that I felt I could use as a resource to help with
my stress of being diagnosed,” she said. “I am so glad things have changed since then and that others
may have the Cancer Warriors Network as a resource now.”
Johnson isn’t sure how many people on campus are affected by cancer, but she continues to see more
people coming out of the woodwork.
“I think a lot of people don’t want to talk about it at work because they feel like, ‘I’m at work I’m
supposed to just be doing my work,’” Johnson said. “But any type of chronic illness or something
that’s life threatening is going to affect you.”
Which is precisely why she formed the Network.
“I don’t want anyone to get that call at work and not think that they have someone they can go to right
away,” she said. “I want us to be something so that when people are dealing with something right here
at work, they can immediately get some help or support or just someone to listen to them and talk
about whatever it is they need to talk about.”
The GVSU Cancer Warriors Network kickoff event will take place 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 in
To view upcoming events, visit www.gvsu.edu/healthwellness.