A Message to the Community

Cancer Lifeline is an organization who serves vulnerable populations impacted by cancer. We are deeply saddened and disturbed by recent events. We stand firmly against all acts of hatred and racism. We stand in solidarity with people of color who are angry and hurting right now because of blatant abuses of power. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are two of the most recent in a long list of individuals whose lives were stolen by injustice. We grieve with their families.

We understand that systems of oppression including racism, sexism, capitalism, and ableism, among others, create and reinforce health disparities that affect people of color disproportionately in the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on these disparities that have existed for too long.

Our small but impactful role in combatting these disparities is our Patient Financial Assistance Fund to help cancer patients who are most in need access treatment and services and our online resources available to everyone.

It is our hope that recent events will lead to lasting change in our country.


In solidarity,

Cancer Lifeline Staff & Board of Trustees

Mary Ellen Shands, Recipient of the 2020 Barbara Frederick Award

Mary Ellen Shands is this year’s Barbara Frederick Award recipient, an award that is usually made at our annual signature fundraiser, Breakfast with Friends; however, given the health crisis, this year it was made at a Zoom staff happy hour.

Before she retired on March 31, 2020, Mary Ellen Shands sat down with us to talk about her 25-year history with Cancer Lifeline.

When did you first get involved with CL?

In the early 90’s I was first asked to provide an in-service presentation for the Lifeline Volunteers on the grieving process.  That led to an offer to join the staff in 1995 because the Family Support Program was growing rapidly, and Ellen Zahlis needed help with Kids/Parents Group and Family Meetings.


What were your responsibilities at CL? (Note: Mary Ellen Shands retired from Cancer Lifeline on March 31, 2020).

I managed the support group program, which entails recruiting, training, and supervising facilitators for  29 SG’s that meet each month.  I also conducted Family Meetings, attended Cancer Committee meetings at our partner hospitals, and presented outreach programs to providers at those sites to be sure they know and understand the programs CL offers at their site.  My role evolved over time, when we first moved to the Dorothy O’Brien Center in the winter of 1999/2000, offering support groups as part of our programming was not even on our radar!  I clearly remember the day Barbara Frederick came over to my desk and asked me how I would feel about supporting a client to help put a support group together.  We (Barbara, Ellen Zahlis, and I) had thought the hospitals were meeting that need, but one by one, clients began asking us to include support groups in our program offerings.  The Support Group Program grew bigger and bigger with each hospital that contracted with CL for psychosocial cancer support services!


Tell us what it was like when all of Cancer Lifeline’s programming fit on one 8-1/2×11 sheet of paper.

Well…Patient and Family Emotional Support Programs at that time did not include support groups.  The primary PFEST programs were the Lifeline, Family Meetings, and Kids/Parents Group.  However, we did also hold a relaxation & stress management class and an exercise class at the Good Shepard Center and at Seattle Central Community College.  We did not have the Center then but worked from an office in the 2nd & Seneca Building downtown.  When the “dream” of having a Cancer Lifeline Center became a reality, and we moved to the Dorothy O’Brien Center, that’s when the Creative Expression Program came into being (with Basha Brownstein being hired) and we started holding lots more exercise & health promotion programs (hired Lisa Talbot!) and began offering yoga & stretch and strength and nutrition classes here at the center. Additionally, around this time we formalized the Therapist Referral Program and I began building the Therapist Referral Database.


What is the biggest change over time?

So, so, so many changes… I would say the continuous and ongoing “shift” in job responsibilities.  As we grew, my job description grew, then when it was at a tipping point, I would offload some things to others. Then we would grow some more and the cycle would start all over again!  Also, as with all small organizations, decisions tend to be made as a  “group” with input from everyone.  As we grew, that was just not feasible!  Additionally, when you start out, everybody does everything, including washing beer glasses from the annual Brewfest Fundraiser we used to have at Union Station to helping my husband paint the very first Cancer Lifeline Room at Northwest Hospital (Barbara asked him if he would do the painting…and who could say no to Barbara?!)


What shifted when you had your own cancer diagnosis?

Before joining Cancer Lifeline, I had worked in psychosocial oncology for almost 20 years, including working as a hospice nurse for many years.  When I first learned about the four needs that Cancer Lifeline built all their programming around, I was thrilled.  From my experience, needing solid, evidence-based information about cancer, having someone to talk to who could just listen to you sort and talk, feeling included and not isolated, and above all feeling some sense of control were indeed the needs that patients and families needed!  I loved delivering the “Four Needs” lecture during Lifeline training or out in the community when asked to talk about Cancer Lifeline’s programs and services!

Having said that, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago I had to make the mental shift from caregiver to care receiver.  In 2018, when I was diagnosed, I had been a nurse for over 40 years, it has been my calling my entire life. Caring for others will always define who I am as long as I am on this earth…so, making that shift was very hard for me. This played out in different ways since the moment I saw my pathology report.  One of the first thoughts I had was, “OK…get a grip, you   have to call my husband but you have to be calm…don’t freak him out”.  The second thought was “oh good god, this is gonna be devastating for our kids. Again… “stay calm, the last thing anybody needs is for you to look like you are falling apart.”

The third thought was “OMG, how many times have I listened to others say the exact same things” that are now going through my mind. I understand cancer in a whole new way because I am part of the club now, I understand how desperately you do not want to burden those you love with fear, worry and concern.

I understand now, from deep down inside of me, the agony of waiting week after week for test results before you can land on a treatment plan.  The things that go through your mind are the stuff of bad television dramas.  Will my daughter have to deal with this if I have the breast cancer genes, what if the tumor cells are more aggressive than originally thought and I do have to have chemo, what if cancer cells are escaping from my breast and invading other parts of my body as we sit here doing nothing?  Why should my journey be any different than my sister’s who was just told her breast cancer has metastasized to her lungs and bones?  And of course…how long will I really have to live now that I have cancer?  The unanswerable questions, uncertainty, the inability to plan what you will be doing the next week or next month, and feeling totally and completely out of control of your life are CRAZY MAKING!

I now “get it” and understand at an even deeper level what happens the moment you find out you have cancer.  You need to make sense of what you have been told, you need INFORMATION  to understand all the details of the test reports and what the doctors are telling you.  You need to talk and sort it all out with someone who can LISTEN, not try to reassure you or minimize your concerns AND not judge you for sounding inarticulate, anxious, and confused.  You need to know you are not ALONE, that there are others who wake up in the middle of the night muttering, “but what if…” who feel as scared and upside down as you do! And above all, …you need ways to take some CONTROL back…because any sense of control evaporates the moment you find out you have cancer.


What’s next for you?  

I am not retiring completely, I will continue my research work at the UW School of Nursing, developing, evaluating, and disseminating programs to support families living with cancer.  I am able to do most of this work from home which will simplify my life quite a bit.  AND, of course, I will always be available to do contract work for Cancer Lifeline, whether it is subbing in for a Support Group facilitator or doing a Family Meeting!


Some time ago three words “Strength. Dignity. Hope.” were added to the Cancer Lifeline logo? Of those three words, which resonates the most for you?

Hope definitely resonates the most for me.  There is always something to hope for and hope is what keeps us getting out of bed each morning.  I have come to believe that hope exists on a continuum, what we hope for changes over time, and what circumstances we find ourselves in, but hope is what keeps us going.  When it comes to living with cancer, we may hope to be cancer-free, or hope for treatment to work or for it to end!  At the other end of the spectrum when cure is not within our reach, we may hope for the best quality of life, for open and loving communication with family and friends, for adequate pain control, and sometimes for a peaceful death.


Beth Brooks, Recipient of the Karl & Ellen Zahlis Inspirational Award

The Karl & Ellen Zahlis Inspirational Award was made to Beth Brooks, Cancer Lifeline’s Director of Development & Marketing. This award was established in 1988 to honor Karl & Ellen who have provided inspired leadership and creativity at all levels as volunteers, board, and staff.

Beth joined the Cancer Lifeline staff in July 2018 as the Director of Development & Marketing. Alongside the board and the executive director, she raises Cancer Lifeline’s contributed revenue through fundraising events, individual contributions, and grants. With the guidance of the board’s marketing committee, she has helped elevate Cancer Lifeline’s visibility through enhanced digital marketing and advertising.


Janell Gilmore, Recipient of the Dorothy S. O’Brien Volunteer Award

The 2020 Dorothy S. O’Brien Award is awarded to Cancer Lifeline Volunteer Janell Gilmore.  This award was established in 1990 by an anonymous donor as a tribute to Dorothy and her belief in the importance of self-determination and empowerment.

Janell comes into the Center, week after week, with a smile on her face and a determination to touch the lives of those affected by cancer. She meets every client with patience, compassion, and understanding and that is so valuable to those calling our lifeline, whether they are simply registering for a class or calling for support.

And she’s a snappy dresser!

Janell joined the ranks of Lifeline volunteers after completing the training in September 2018. In no time at all, she signed up for a regular shift on the phones and is now a weekly Lifeline volunteer.

“I found out about Cancer Lifeline through a catalog in the oncology department at EvergreenHealth. There was a presentation at Northwest Hospital that I was interested in, so I attended.  I was very impressed by Basha Brownstein, Community Program Manager for Cancer Lifeline, who facilitated that presentation,” says Janell.

“I was looking for a volunteer opportunity.  One day, I took a field trip over to Cancer Lifeline and rang the doorbell.  Basha answered, and gave me a tour.  I wanted to be like her—making a difference.   As one whose life has been changed by cancer in ways that I never wanted, I wanted to be able to help others whose lives have also been altered.

“The best part about making and answering calls for me is that it’s an indirect way for me to fight back against cancer, by touching the lives of others who have been affected by it.”

Learn more about volunteering opportunities at Cancer Lifeline.

Jeanne Hall, Recipient of the Dorothy S. O’Brien Volunteer Award

This year the Dorothy S. O’Brien Award is awarded to Cancer Lifeline Volunteer Jeanne Hall. This award was established in 1990 by an anonymous donor as a tribute to Dorothy and her belief in the importance of self-determination and empowerment.

Jeanne has embraced her role as a Lifeline volunteer deeply and has soared beyond the expectations set. Her personal experience has made her an important advocate for others facing cancer – she has had the great challenge of having to put her opinions and beliefs to the side as she attends to others’ experiences and helps them come to their own decision on what is best. She has participated in many programs through Cancer Lifeline and that has enriched her experience as a volunteer. She truly gets both the volunteer and clients perspective and uses those perspectives to offer suggestions to enhance our training and our programs. Jeanne is an attentive listener and is always sharing important feedback from clients about how to improve our programs. Jeanne is a highly valued member of the Cancer Lifeline volunteer team and clients are truly honored when she picks up the call.

Several months ago, we talked with Jeanne about her cancer experience. Here, in her own words, is why she volunteers for Cancer Lifeline.


Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had taken yoga classes with Christy Fisher for over 20 years. (She is the owner/lead teacher at Phinney Yoga Center.) At some point in the past, I had heard her speak about teaching yoga classes for people impacted by cancer.

I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in May of 2017. A few months later, I asked Christy whether I could participate in her yoga class for people living with cancer. She told me that she offered it through Cancer Lifeline (CLL).

In August of 2017, I registered for Christy’s gentle yoga class. At that point in time, I was solely focused on registering for her class and did not explore any other program offerings. I was amazed and grateful that the class was free.

I found Christy’s gentle yoga class to be a calming, supportive experience, Unfortunately, I was unable to attend regularly due to side effects from treatment. (I began chemo and immunotherapy at the end of August.)

I found the experience of receiving a lymphoma diagnosis, being presented with very different opinions regarding my prognosis and how best to treat my disease, being barraged with unsolicited advice, coping with others’ reactions to my diagnosis, experiencing many side effects from treatment and unexpected prolonged complications to be a series of very stressful and at times traumatic experiences. The center where I received treatment provided me with the chemo and immunotherapy treatment that I needed to achieve complete remission. Unfortunately, they were not proactive about helping me to access support services during this very difficult time of my life.

I wish I had reached out to CLL for additional support during this time. I had no idea that CLL offered a therapy referral service. Nor did I appreciate the breadth of educational or support group offerings. During the 3-4 months in early 2018 when I was dealing with a  fungal lung infection, I would have benefited from receiving emotional support from the lifeline and it would have been a Godsend to have had someone assist me in finding a therapist with expertise in working with people living with cancer.  Instead, I sought out emotional support services on my own. It was an onerous process. Fortunately, I managed to find an amazing therapist.

When I was at my sickest in the winter of 2018, I felt increasingly isolated despite having a loving network of family and friends. I was exhausted, anxious, and extremely debilitated. My husband and I had to doggedly pursue appropriate medical interventions for what was to be eventually diagnosed as a fungal lung infection. During this time of intense illness and challenging treatments, I promised myself that if I lived through the experience, I would find a way to become involved in supporting others as they navigate the very challenging experience of living with cancer.

As I began to recover, I started to research organizations in Seattle that supported people living with cancer.  I was so impressed by the breadth and depth of the services/classes/support groups that Cancer Lifeline offered. When I read the description of the responsibilities of CLL volunteers, I knew that I wanted to be one of those people. I reached out to Blair (the volunteer coordinator) for information about the application and training process. She was a wonderful contact person—so warm and welcoming. I was able to attend the fall training in 2018 and began to volunteer on October 31, 2018–an easy date to remember!

I enjoy just about every aspect of being a volunteer. I particularly love being able to offer support to those who call the Lifeline for emotional support, assistance with class registration, and/or information about financial support. It is such a privilege to be able to compassionately receive another’s story and to offer non-judgmental, supportive listening. I love being able to help callers discover the resources that will best meet their needs. I love being able to say that we (CLL) are here to support them in any way that we can as they navigate the challenges of living with cancer.

I find the atmosphere at CLL to be positive and supportive. No matter how I am feeling when I arrive, I leave feeling that I am appreciated and that I have been of help in at least some small way. I am truly grateful that I am part of the CLL mission and team.

Volunteering at CLL and becoming more familiar with CLL programs has inspired me to participate in more CLL classes and support groups. I am so impressed by the quality of the programs we offer. I have enjoyed and learned a great deal from attending artistic expression classes, a class on nutrition, and a class on coping with cancer-related fatigue. I love participating in the Healthy Steps class at Northwest Hospital. I am finding the Thursday afternoon writing group to be a very healing and supportive endeavor. I have also attended several support groups and have found a Living with Cancer support group at NWH that I plan to attend on a regular basis. Participating in these CLL programs is a wonderfully supportive part of my ongoing healing process.

I have a form of lymphoma that is currently considered incurable but manageable. It is very comforting for me to know that I will be able to draw upon CLL resources during future recurrences and treatment cycles.

Learn more about volunteering opportunities with Cancer Lifeline.

Pamela Krueger, Recipient of The Shirley Utevsky Volunteer of the Year Award

Cancer Lifeline’s 2020 Shirley Utevsky Volunteer of the Year Award goes to Pamela Krueger. This award was established in 1989 in memory of Shirley, a direct service volunteer, who gave generously whenever there was a need.

“Pamela is such an inspirational volunteer at Cancer Lifeline.  Her self-determination and creativity have opened so many doors for Cancer Lifeline clients,” said Meghan Wilkins Melanson, Cancer Lifeline’s Director of Programming. “When talking about the programs she helped launch in the past few months, one can’t help but beam with such happiness and be inspired by all of the work she’s done.  I am so proud of what she has accomplished here and I am inspired by her drive and tenacity to keep pushing forward. And I am beyond thrilled to have her on the team as our new Clinical Program Administrator.

Pamela Krueger has always loved creative writing, starting with neighborhood marionette playwriting in childhood and, as she grew, often venturing into poetic interludes for solace and the insights the process of writing delivered. When her eldest son was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood leukemia, she turned to poetry and journaling to process her experiences and seek meaning. Her own experiences during his three and one-half years of chemotherapy led her to deeply understand the power of the creative process, leading her down her current path. Before she became an emerging therapist, she counseled clients about protecting the environment, facilitating many groups through the process of resolving conflicts during her fifteen-year legal career. She lives in Issaquah, Washington, with her husband Scott and her two young adult children, Ethan (22) and Oliver (18), and their beloved corgi, Buddha. She recently received her Master of Fine Arts in Creating Writing from Oregon State University and her Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, Expressive Arts Therapy, from the California Institute of Integral Studies after completing a nine-month residency as Cancer Lifeline’s expressive arts therapist in training.

“I’ve never known a volunteer to give so fully of themselves in their passion and for so much time each week!  Pamela’s dedication allowed us to jump-start the programming at our Center and add a layer of depth to our programming, said newly retired Mary Ellen Shands, former Clinical Program Manager for Cancer Lifeline.  “Her expressive arts therapy pilot program also allowed us to begin serving previously under-served individuals such as children.  Absolutely amazing!”

Contact information for Pamela Krueger: (206) 832-1271 or pkrueger@cancerlifeline.org.

Get to know volunteer Cheryl Capriola

For many years, I volunteered for the King County Crisis Clinic. During that time, Cancer Lifeline’s after-hours calls were forwarded to the KCCC phone line and that’s when I first became aware of the work Cancer Lifeline was doing.

I found some similarities with the Crisis Clinic training when I decided to undergo Cancer Lifeline’s Active Listening and Volunteer training in that it’s important to make sure people feel heard and have a safe place to vocally run through their fears. However, the training for Cancer Lifeline felt more intimate and personal.

Cancer Lifeline encourages volunteers to research and offer resources and class suggestions for those impacted by cancer.  It feels good to learn about the many types, treatments, recovery, and resources available to those impacted by cancer. And by helping the Cancer Lifeline staff, we allow more time for them to focus on classes, therapeutic, financial, and fundraising events.

My hope is that Cancer Lifeline can continue to educate and bring people together before they get or know someone with cancer.

Cancer Lifeline positions itself as offering our clients Strength, Dignity, and Hope. Of those three words, until I personally underwent cancer treatment, I would have said Strength and Dignity resonate the most for me. Now I feel the word Hope best describes my feeling about the future.  I want to give people the feeling of Hope through education and support during the many phases of cancer.

Meet Our Breakfast Chair Susan Baumgaertel, MD

Susan Baumgaertel, MD is in Internal Medicine at the Polyclinic. She has served on the Cancer Lifeline board since 2018 and has chaired our annual signature fundraiser Breakfast with Friends for the past two years.

Below is an excerpt from her official bio with the Polyclinic.

“I believe in empowering people to make healthy changes. I strive to offer support and accountability for strengthening health and wellness goals along the way. My patients receive personalized continuity of care with respectful collaboration, and a sharing of information to improve both physical and mental health.”

Dr. Baumgaertel was honored as an Ontario Scholar in 1984 by the Minister of Education for the Ministry of Colleges & Universities in Ontario, Canada. She then completed her Bachelor of Arts in 1989 at the University of Washington College of Architecture & Urban Planning. She went on to receive her Doctor of Medicine from the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1993 and completed her residency at UW Department of Medicine, including a rotation as Chief Resident at Swedish Medical Center.

Dr. Baumgaertel has been in full-time practice at The Polyclinic since 1996. Her practice encompasses all areas of internal medicine, including preventive medicine, women’s health, cancer care, menopausal concerns, weight management and managing chronic disease, all in the spirit of compassion and caring. She collaborates as needed with holistic support in her office suite, including acupuncture and naturopathic medicine. She served as medical director of Menu for Change, an innovative weight management & wellness program, and continues to incorporate this program’s philosophy into her medical practice.

“Over the years, I became very moved by the many stories of people struggling to lose weight. While each story was unique, there were also so many similarities that my interest in providing weight loss services intensified. I networked with researchers and specialists around the country and in other countries and got excited to see other ways to approach weight loss treatment. These relationships inspired me to develop the Menu for Change program, which ultimately developed into a rich tapestry of offerings.”

Professional Awards & Accomplishments

  • Top Doctor
  • The Best Doctors in America
  • America’s Top Physicians
  • Seattle Met Top Doctors
  • Seattle Magazine Top Doctors (Cont’d.)
  • American Diabetes Association and National Committee for Quality Assurance for delivery of quality diabetes care
  • American Heart Association /American Stroke Association and National Committee for Quality Assurance for delivery of quality stroke and cardiovascular care
  • Primary Care Section Chief at The Polyclinic
  • Chair of The Polyclinic Quality Management Committee
  • Medical Informatics Physician Champion for Electronic Health Record rollout at The Polyclinic, and Chair of the Technology Committee
  • Chair of The Polyclinic Integrative Medicine Committee


Teaching & Volunteer Activities

  • Internal Medicine Teaching Panel at Swedish Medical Center Department of Medical Education (1996-2000)
  • Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at UW Department of Medicine (1997-2016)
  • Institute for Healthcare Improvement (national audio conference)
  • Menu for Change lecture series (2012-2019)
  • YMCA Wellness leadership conference for Washington and Oregon (2014)
  • Board of Directors, Cancer Lifeline (2018 to present)


Personal Interests

A Seattle native, Dr. Baumgaertel lived in Ontario, Canada during her childhood, returning to Seattle as an adult. Prior to medical school she followed her interests in architecture and completed a degree in Architecture and Urban Planning. Married since 1991, she and her husband Glenn try to get spare time with their daughter Jennifer who is in college. Family interests include many outdoor activities, restaurant patronage, movies, music, reading, and travel.

Important Information re: Coronavirus & Cancer Lifeline

With regards to the Coronavirus/COVID-19, Cancer Lifeline is currently following the lead of the Public Health department and the local community hospitals and how they impose limits upon their community education programs, under which Cancer Lifeline classes and support groups fall.

To date, most of our hospital partners have recommended canceling their community education programs, with the exception of Virginia Mason Cancer Institute (in both Seattle and Federal Way).

We will continue to offer our programs as scheduled.

Individuals are encouraged to stay home if they are not feeling well, or feel feverish, or have cold or flu symptoms.

We want to encourage the use of our telephone Lifeline (206-297-2500 or 1-800-255-5505) and internet chat (M-F 9am – 5 pm via cancerlifeline.org)  features for emotional support for those we serve who have compromised immune systems or just feel too much anxiety about the public health risks.




2020 Breakfast with Friends Speakers

We are pleased to announce that there will be two speakers at this year’s Breakfast with Friends to be held on Thursday, April 23 at Bell Harbor International Conference Center.
“It’s important to speak to both the head and the heart when it comes to Cancer Lifeline’s work,” said Executive Director Joseph Yurgevich. “These two speakers bring a wealth of information and experience to these two important aspects of anyone’s cancer journey.”
Bonnie McGregor, Ph.D will focus her remarks on the impact of emotional support programs on cancer outcomes and improving the quality of life. Dr. McGregor is a psychologist and former researcher for Fred Hutch, and is the principal of Orion Center for Integrative Medicine.
“It’s an act of strength to ask for help,” said Dr. McGregor. “Today, our healthcare system treats the disease of cancer, instead of working to heal the whole person before, during, and after treatment. Once cancer patients realize they need to treat the whole body and connect on numerous levels – through better nutrition, gentle exercise, support groups, therapy – the quality of their lives improves.”
Morhaf Al Achkar, MD, Ph.D., practices Family Medicine with UW Medicine and is an Assistant Professor with the AIMS Center, University of Washington, Psychiatry & Behaviorial Sciences. A Stage 4 lung cancer survivor, he is also the author Roads to Meaning & Resilience with Cancer. Learn more about Dr. Achkar in this recent KUOW FM interview.
“Patients with cancer need support in finding meaning while living life and dealing with mundane day-to-day concerns,” said Dr. Al Achkar. “They deserve space to support them as they redefine who they are continue to author their narratives.”
Breakfast with Friends, Cancer Lifeline’s signature event, raises needed funds for our Patient & Family Support Fund, thus assuring that ALL our programs remain free and accessible for all people living with cancer. Please   join us! Tickets are $70 per person. For more information.