New beginnings after surviving cancer

Melissa with her daughter, Mia.

Melissa with her daughter, Mia.

Melissa was diagnosed in November 2008 with breast cancer. What followed was a mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, one year of clinical trial infusions and a hysterectomy. “I had lots of mobility issues. My body was altered. It wasn’t the body that I was born with. I’m so lucky to be alive but the reality is that things were different,” said Melissa.

“I knew about Team Phoenix because a friend was a 2012 Team Phoenix athlete. Dr. Judy Tjoe also encouraged me to join Team Phoenix for the life-changing experience. This year, I was finally ready to change my life and I decided to begin the 14-week training program to complete a triathlon.”

Team Phoenix members trained with other breast cancer survivors to complete the Tri-ing for Children triathlon, composed of a half-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 3.1 mile run. Team Phoenix members worked with professional coaches and volunteers to physically and mentally prepare for a triathlon. Additionally, nutrition and core strength training were emphasized. Judy Tjoe, M.D., breast cancer surgeon and Leslie Waltke, PT, cancer rehab physical therapist tailor the program to each patient’s individual abilities and needs.

“It’s a thorough program, we received heart rate monitors and learned about what zones we needed to be in to get stronger and increase our cardiac strength. Everyone is so caring and knowledgeable. I’ve never been able to run. I can run a mile without stopping now. I’m afraid of lakes but the encouragement and support helped me and I can swim the triathlon distance now.”

“Everyone has been wonderful and caring, I couldn’t have done this without them. It’s been such a bonding experience. I have made lifelong friends.”

Melissa is now a triathlete!

Melissa is now a triathlete!

“I never thought that I would be training for a triathlon. Now, I can say that not only did I train for one, but I actually finished a triathlon. I’m even more excited to volunteer for the 2015 Team Phoenix and help the next group of women.”

“It’s more than a triathlon training program. It’s a complete life-style change that has not only improved my life, but my husband and children’s lives. We go running and biking together. We are able to do more family activities because I’m more active and it’s given us more of an opportunity to spend time together.”

Team Phoenix is possible thanks to volunteers and the support of generous donors to Aurora Health Care Foundation. “I appreciate everyone who donated and volunteered to help Team Phoenix. You are making a difference in the lives of women who never thought it was possible. You are giving us back something that was taken from us medically and surgically. Team Phoenix was truly a new beginning for me.”

The Team Phoenix survivorship program also allows Dr. Tjoe to continue her research efforts on the effects of prescribed, peer-supported exercise in breast cancer survivors. Her findings may encourage new survivors to improve their quality of life by participating in group exercise programs. Please consider making a donation at to support Team Phoenix.

Posted in Meet Team Phoenix | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Live Well events bring communities together to celebrate healthy options

Live Well Oshkosh guests enjoy a guormet dinner at  Brighton Acres in Oshkosh.

Live Well Oshkosh guests enjoy a gourmet dinner at Brighton Acres in Oshkosh.

Congratulations to attendees of our inaugural Live Well events in Oshkosh and Ozaukee County. These “farm-to-fork” events offered attendees healthy cooking demonstrations, education in physical activity and nutrition which focused on eating healthy and locally — while reinforcing the ease and tastiness of eating well.

More than 120 members of the Oshkosh community came to Brighton Acres on August 9 and raised $24,500 in support the Weight of the Fox Valley initiative, a tri-county effort that addresses obesity in the Fox Valley area. A special thank you to WBAY’s Bill Jartz for serving as our event emcee. Your generosity will help more people connect to the tools they need to begin and sustain their efforts to maintain a healthy weight.

Guests enjoy Live Well booths at the Live Well Ozaukee event at the Bog.

Guests enjoy Live Well booths at the Live Well Ozaukee event at the Bog.

A week later, Live Well Ozaukee was held at The Bog in Saukville. More than 100 supporters raised close to $38,000 to support the cardiac program at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton. Kudos to Fox 6’s Brad Hicks for sharing his personal story about his heart condition and to Wisconsin Foodie host Kyle Cherek for serving as our emcee.

Thanks to your generosity to helping make these “farm-to-fork” events a fun and educational evening that engages the communities we serve and ultimately helps are people live well.

See photos from Live Well Oshkosh. Please click here.

See photos from Live Well Ozaukee. Please click here.

Posted in Fundraising Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Financial Wellness For Women Educational Series

KV0025h_AHF_Financial_Wellness_Women_AWAMC_flyerLast year, Aurora Health Care Foundation launched our first Financial Wellness For Women educational series at Aurora West Allis Medical Center. Attendees shared they felt the event was very helpful.  So, we’re hosting three, FREE, two-part events this fall, and you’re invited!

September 9 & 23|  5:45 – 8 PM                               September 18  & 25 | 5:45 – 8 PM
Aurora Medical Center Manitowoc County               Aurora West Allis Medical Center
Michigan Room                                                              Sage Spirit Room

October 7 & 21 | 5:45-8 PM
Aurora St. Luke’s South Shore

Wellness is an intricate balance of mental, spiritual, physical and financial health. Financial wellness is having an understanding of your current financial situation and preparing for future financial needs. Join us for this free educational series presented by Jean Range, CFP® of Ellenbecker Investment Group, and get the answers to the questions about money that every woman should know. This educational series is not exclusive to women.

For more information, contact Stephen Davis, Director of Gift Planning, at 14-219-4742 or register online at

Posted in Legacy Gift Planning, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Grateful patient shares how a second opinion saved his life

Lee and his his girlfriend, Lacey, at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center.

Lee and his his girlfriend, Lacey, at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.

There was an itchy, irritated spot on Lee’s chest that wouldn’t go away. A visit to his local dermatologist in Little Rock, Ark. determined that it was melanoma. The affected cancer area was removed not once, twice but five times. On the fifth time, lymph nodes were also removed. A full body scan indicated that there was a spot in his brain which they would now be treating. Treatments were completed and Lee was informed that he was cancer free.

A month later, Lee developed stomach issues. After a series of tests, he learned that he had 20 tumors in his small intestine, two in his brain and a couple in his left lung. After two years of removing tumors, cancer treatments and a clinical trial, Lee decided it was time to part with his physicians.

And that’s how he met Amin Kassam, MD, Aurora Health Care System Vice President of Neurosciences. An internationally recognized neurosurgeon, Dr. Kassam is instrumental in developing numerous advanced techniques in neurological surgery. He also spearheads the Aurora Neuroscience Innovation Institute at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wis.

Dr. Kassam, along with colleagues George C. Bobustuc, MD, and Kenneth T. Bastin, MD, were the experts who consulted with Lee and performed his surgery. By performing a craniotomy (cutting a bone flap in the skull to allow access to the brain), Dr. Kassam and team was able to extract the tumor from Lee’s brain – a tumor that previous physicians told Lee would be inoperable. Lee spent four days in the hospital recovering from the six-hour brain surgery. After three weeks, he was able to return home to Arkansas.

“The doctors at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center actually cared about what was happening to me and how I was doing. I’ll never find another doctor who is as caring as they are. Dr. Bobustuc actually called me to make sure that I made it home alright. That’s never happened to me before,” said Lee. “I was losing vision in my right eye and couldn’t walk because the pressure in my brain was so bad prior to the surgery. A day after the surgery, I could walk again. I couldn’t be more thankful.”

Donor support of research programs further medical advancements and give people—like Lee—hope. Lee says, “Come to Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center if you want to be treated and live a long life. The physicians and care team assembled are not good or great. They are truly world class.”

Help more people like Lee, and support innovative neurological research at Aurora Health Care. Contact Bridgette Frommell at or call 414-649-3636.



Posted in Research Innovation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waterford Balloon Festival Raises Money to Fight Cancer

balloon release for cancer

Balloons being released on the morning of the race in Waterford, WI

Tens of thousands of people head to the town of Waterford for the Hot Air Balloon Festival every year, but this year organizers used it as an opportunity to help cancer patients. They held the first annual 5K Morning Launch Run/Walk in mid-July. Participants started the race as balloons were released into the sky. They had over 200 participants for their first year and raised over $3,500 for the Vince Lombardi Cancer Center at Aurora Medical Hospital Burlington.

Aurora Health Care's Michelle Weber and Lisa Just accepting the check

Aurora Health Care Foundation’s Michelle Weber and hospital president Lisa Just at the check presentation

Staff at Integrity Funeral Services also raised $1,000 from the Memorial Balloon Launch. It was such a great start for this event, they hope to do it every year. Thanks for helping to make a difference in your community!

Posted in Fundraising Events | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Janna’s Story: What Cancer Gave Me

Janna (far right) and her sisters prior to her cancer diagnosis

Janna (far right) and her sisters prior to her cancer diagnosis

At age 32, Janna Ripp had never taken any serious medications or even stayed overnight in a hospital, so you can imagine how her world came to a stop when she was told she had cancer. “The air felt like it was sucked out of the room,” Janna says. “I had questions and my brain was spinning with thoughts, I was in total disbelief.”

Janna was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), a blood cancer most commonly associated with young children and older adults. Janna, of course, was neither. “One day I’m going to work like a normal person and the next I am told, without treatment, I had 3-6 months to live.” She was told right away that part of her treatment would include staying at least 30 days inpatient at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee.

Janna heard the words, but couldn’t accept it. So in the six weeks following her diagnosis, Janna went in regularly for lab work and received platelet and blood transfusions, but waited to start chemotherapy. Instead, she tried an extreme diet, going completely raw and organic. She had hoped to clean out the toxins in her body and rid herself of the cancer. But unfortunately that wasn’t enough, and Janna decided to move forward with chemotherapy.

She stayed at Aurora St. Luke’s for 33 days, and had nine more rounds of chemotherapy after that. But thanks to the level of care she received, Janna is now able to call herself a cancer survivor. She just passed the one-year mark since her initial diagnosis.

WVBO's Skip Willis with Janna at the Lombardi Walk for Cancer in Oshkosh

WVBO’s Skip Willis with Janna at the Lombardi Walk for Cancer in Oshkosh

Janna shared her story at this year’s Lombardi Walk for Cancer in Oshkosh, telling the crowd she was thankful for the care she received. “All of the nurses, doctors, CNA’s, housekeepers, receptionists and social workers I met through Aurora…. Everything you have done has played a part in getting me to this point,” said Janna.

And instead of focusing on what cancer took away from her life, Jenna remains focused on what it has given her; friendships that have been tested and strengthened, new bonds with other cancer patients that go deeper than anything she imagined, and most of all,  knowing that she has the strength and will power to LIVE, no matter the odds.

You can still support local cancer care by making a gift to the Vince Lombardi Cancer Walk in Oshkosh, Walworth County or Milwaukee Walk/Run events. Visit for more information.

Posted in Living Well: Survivorship Stories | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

$80,000 raised to benefit Aurora Visiting Nurse Association

Thanks to the generous support of sponsors and golfers for helping to raise more than $80,000 during the Aurora Golf Classic benefiting Aurora Visiting Nurse Association. The golf outing was held on Monday, July 21 at Chenequa Country Club. The support raised will help children and adults who rely on Aurora for in-home health, specialized pediatric and hospice care, as well as residential care at Aurora Zilber Family Hospice.

All foursomes golfed with former Green Bay Packer Antonio Freeman at hole #3.

All foursomes golfed with former Green Bay Packer Antonio Freeman at hole #3.

We were pleased to welcome back celebrity guest golfer, former Green Bay Packers wide receiver and Super Bowl XXXI Champion, Antonio Freeman, who golfed with each of the foursomes and spoke during the program. It was a fun day filled with golf contests, awards reception and meeting mother of quadruplets, Melissa, who had first-hand experience with our visiting nurses. You can read Melissa’s full story here.

Mary Beth Kingston, executive vice president and chief nursing officer of Aurora Health Care and Ray Darcey, president of Aurora Visiting Nurse Association attended the golf outing.

Mary Beth Kingston, executive vice president and chief nursing officer of Aurora Health Care and Ray Darcey, president of Aurora Visiting Nurse Association attended the golf outing.

Proceeds will provide rehab to patients returning home after surgery, care for newborns going home for the first days or weeks of their life, offering the dignity and respect to patients during their final moments.

Last year, Aurora caregivers drove nearly three million miles across eastern Wisconsin in order to provide in-home care for more than 15,000 women, men and children, which included pediatric care, 62,000 hospice benefit days,  and critical home medical equipment to over 37,000 patients.

Click here to see all pictures from the Aurora Golf Classic.

We would not be able to provide the level of care or services that we offer without the generous support from community members, organizations and foundations. Thank you for making a difference for so many in our community!

Every patient deserves the best care. Your online gift to the Aurora Visting Nurse Association extends our reach to even more patients in need this year. Every gift can change a life!

Posted in Fundraising Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment