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Celebrating Love in the Garden of Hope – Dennis Stansell’s Story

“Out of the most horrendous thing that has happened to me, also came the most amazing thing.”

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In 2007, just a few months after a perfectly normal physical, Dennis Stansell woke up at 4:30 a.m. in a panic. “My brain was telling me something was wrong,” he recalls. Over the next several months, doctors did a range of tests and found a tumor in Dennis’ stomach.  In June he had his first surgery to remove the cancer.

Throughout this ordeal, Dennis’ friend Denny Warner, a cancer survivor himself, had been encouraging him to get involved with the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara (CSCVVSB). Just a few days before his first surgery, Dennis went with Denny to his support group to see what it was all about. “He almost had to drag me kicking and screaming,” says Dennis. “But the people were incredibly helpful, [group facilitator] Marty was a gem, and I wanted to go back when I got out of the hospital. I could already feel there was something really special about this place.”

For the next year Dennis never missed a Wednesday group meeting unless he was going through cancer treatment. “Every Wednesday I wanted to make sure I finished up work in time, so I wouldn’t miss a group. I needed my fix,” says Dennis.

In February of 2009 doctors discovered a growth and removed Dennis’ gall bladder, and in August he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had his thyroid removed. During this time, Dennis was living alone, and his group members became like his primary family. “The people calling me from my group pretty much kept my whole brain together,” he says.  His group members understood firsthand the experience of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. They could relate to the “cancer cloud” that feels like it’s always hovering near you, even when things may be going well.

When Cynthia, a breast cancer survivor, joined the group, Dennis was struck by how she never really complained or asked much for herself, but just tried to help her fellow group members. Three years later, in September of 2012, the woman who had so inspired Dennis became his wife, and his family grew to include three grown children and an eight-year-old granddaughter. “Out of the most horrendous thing that has happened to me, also came the most amazing thing,” says Dennis, who now has no evidence of cancer.

Because the Cancer Support Community and its participants are such an important part of their story, Dennis and Cynthia had a commitment ceremony in the Garden of Hope at the Cancer Support Community earlier in the year. Timm, a dear friend from their group who had encouraged Dennis and Cynthia to get together, was concerned he would not be able to make it to their wedding in September, but happily was able to stand next to Dennis during the commitment ceremony. Dennis’ new granddaughter Kala was the flower girl, and Cynthia’s lifelong friend Jim officiated. Their past and current support group friends were all there to help the couple celebrate.

Marty Nason, VP of Programs at CSCVVSB and the facilitator of Dennis and Cynthia’s group, says that Dennis and Cindy have very big hearts. “Dennis always has a bear-hug for his group members and me,” she adds. “They always stay to help clean up after events, and even asked that friends make donations to the Cancer Support Community in lieu of wedding gifts. They bring fruit to Comedy Night and help out in many other ways.  They are very generous with their care and compassion.  They are the embodiment of ‘community.’”

Cancer is a journey no one asks to go on, but when Dennis’ journey led him to the Cancer Support Community, he found hope, friendship, and love. “I wish everyone that had any type of cancer knew about the Cancer Support Community because it’s the best asset you could possibly have to help you through this journey,” says Dennis.

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