Joanne Filina has the word “Believe” tattooed on the inside of her left wrist.
The word reflects her confidence in God’s ability to heal and serves as the anchor in the name of her charity, Believe in the Cure.
“If you believe in God, you will be cured. Everybody’s cure is not the same, but whatever your cure is, you will receive it, whether it’s leaving this earth or starting a nonprofit,” said Filina, of Akron. “I believe everything happens for a reason. I went from my lowest point of being diagnosed with cancer to going into remission and being inspired to make a difference in the lives of other people who are fighting cancer.”
Filina, 39, founded Believe in the Cure in June 2011, after a personal battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The mission of the nonprofit is to raise funds for cancer research and education and for medical bill relief. Its focus is on cancer research for adolescents and young adults (ages 16 to 39).
Believe in the Cure’s inaugural fundraiser will be at 5 p.m. Jan. 12 at Church of Our Saviour (Episcopal), 471 Crosby St., Akron. It will include a silent auction, 50/50 raffle and Greek food. It will feature the Grammy-nominated Jann Klose band (www.jannklose.com) from New York City and two speakers, Dr. Nick Parasson of Summit Natural Wellness Center in Akron (www.snwcenter.com) and Dr. Joseph Flynn, clinical director of hematologic malignancies at The James Cancer Center (www.cancer.osu.edu) at Ohio State University Medical Center.
Flynn, the oncologist who treated Filina, said he agreed to participate in the fundraiser because he admires her commitment to helping others. He also views it as an opportunity to share information.
“We all have this fear when we hear the word ‘cancer’ and we’ve all been touched by it. Although we tend to hear all of the bad things about the illness, there have been a lot of advances in research and treatment,” Flynn said. “Advocacy has helped move the needle in cancer care, research and new drugs. By educating people, we can improve the care for all patients, because if it weren’t for advocacy, we wouldn’t be where we are in cancer treatment.”
Flynn said that Filina’s charity will become part of the network that champions the movement toward a cure for cancer. That support, he said, has resulted in the continuous decline of the cancer mortality rate since 1991.
“What I plan to do is educate people on the impacts of cancer and the issues surrounding it, including the good-news parts, like the new regimens that are being discovered. That is a real message of hope,” Flynn said. “I’m a proponent of anyone who is trying to make a difference in people’s lives: the researchers, the caregivers and Joanne, who has taken a horrible situation and turned it into an opportunity to impact people’s lives in a positive way.”
Filina was diagnosed with blood cancer of the white cells called lymphocytes in August 2010, after undergoing blood tests to find a cause for her persistent sore throat and the swollen lymph nodes in her neck. By that December, she found herself at the lowest point in her life — wondering if she was going to live to see her children (Adam and Zoe, now 8 and 3, respectively) grow up.
With the support of her husband of 12 years, Robert, Filina found The James Cancer Center at OSU, where she underwent chemotherapy in May 2011. Seven months later, a bone marrow biopsy confirmed she was in remission.
“During my low point, I was pretty hateful with God. I questioned why he was doing this to me, a mother with a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old,” Filina said.
As she struggled to come to grips with what was happening to her, Filina’s friend and neighbor, Colleen Denholm, invited her to church at Church of Our Saviour. Denholm is the coordinator of the upcoming fundraiser.
“The moment I walked in, I felt the spirit, and I really believe my healing started at that point,” Filina said. “When we began planning for the fundraiser, I couldn’t think of a better place to have it than the place where my healing began.”
Tickets for the fundraiser are $50 each and can be purchased at www.believeinthecure.org. The website also offers other opportunities to donate to the charity.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.