Over the Hill

Finding Wellness in Paso Robles

Annie Fletcher of Atascadero completed her chemotherapy in January 2008. When I met her Monday, she displayed cheerful good health but admitted, “I still feel fatigued.”

We talked at the Wellness Community in Paso Robles. The Wellness Community is a place where people with cancer and their loved ones are offered free education, emotional support and hope.

Annie Fletcher is in her 50s. Back in 2007, her life was smooth. She’d accepted early retirement in 2003 from the County Office of Education. Her 87-year-old father had moved from Grass Valley to Morro Bay. She and her husband, John, had a home with a view in Atascadero.

Then she noticed a lump. Her worst fears were confirmed that August. It was cancer. “I knew life would never be the same,” she said.

At her first appointment with the cancer specialist she asked, “Am I going to be here next year?”

He assured her she would.

At his office she saw a Wellness Community folder, but she was too occupied to pursue it. In 10 days she had surgery. Two weeks later she started chemotherapy.

She said her husband was “scared and worried.” His mother died of cancer when he was 20.

The hardest thing she did was tell her father. Her mother had died of cancer in 2002.

She had two more surgeries in 2008 and, in addition to the chemotherapy, was on another drug for a year. Her treatments ended in Oct. 2008. She celebrated by taking off alone in their motor home, accompanied only by her dog. She spent a month camping in Oregon.

She’s now in remission but goes every three months for laboratory tests. So far all have been clear.

She finally visited the Wellness Community in the spring of 2009. She remembers walking into its adobe building at 614 13th St. and instantly feeling comfortable. She now goes at least once a week for a group meeting with other cancer survivors.

She said some of them have completed their cancer treatments, some are still in treatment, others are newly diagnosed, some have had their cancers return.

She gets strength, she said, from “talking and sharing with people who have gone through the same challenges and fears. These women’s stories are inspirational.”

The Wellness Community also offers stress-reduction, relaxation massage, talks by oncologists and oncology nurses, biofeedback and much more. Everything is free. The Wellness Community is supported by donors and fundraising events. Last year it logged 5,702 visits by 635 individuals. Information is available at www.twcccc.org or 238-4411.