A Conversation with Nancy Allen: Executive Director of Wesparkby Lauren Clemmons
Filed under | Researcher Profiles
Supporting a community affected by cancer
What does weSPARK stand for?
The “SPARK” is an acronym that means: Support, Prevention, Acceptance, Recovery and Knowledge. Wendie Jo Sperber, our founder, wanted to be clear that it was a place for peer support for people affected by cancer.
How did weSPARK come to be?
It is the dream and legacy of my dear friend Wendie Jo Sperber. She was an actress with two young children who was diagnosed with breast cancer. During her battle she realized that while treatment was difficult, the emotions she and her loved ones went through were even more challenging. There was no place in her community where they could get the kind of emotional support she felt that she, her children, family and friends needed. So her idea with weSPARK was to change that.
Has being a part of weSPARK changed your life?
It has changed my life in so many ways. I came to weSPARK after I’d lost my father and both of my brothers. I feel very lucky to have gotten involved when I did. It is a great thing to witness someone going through cancer, surviving it, and then knowing that you’ve been a small part of their recovery process.
When you see the effect of a yoga class, a support group or a guided imagery session you can see a change in them. Whether they are healing or preparing to pass away you see on a daily basis that what
you are doing has an effect and is so important. The love and the gratitude I see every day from people who are in the fight for their lives is so powerful. People here show you how to look at life from a different perspective.
Do you have a personal connection to cancer?
I have several connections. My dad passed away from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1989. Wendie our founder, passed away in November 2005 from breast cancer. She was one of my closest friends.
I remember when Wendy was re-diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. I went to all of her treatments with her. It was a really powerful journey. I got to see first hand what she went through and why an institutional supportive environment was so important. That was when I realized that weSPARK was really important and knew it was what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
Now my connection to cancer is really trying to lessen the pain and stress of people that have been affected by it.
What kinds of free support services do you offer?
I really believe that most of what we offer here are all things for the mind and spirit to help alleviate some of the stress and pain that cancer causes.
We offer free support services to anyone who has been affected by cancer. We have support groups for people who are recovering, people in different stages of treatment, caregivers, young adults and children. We break our groups down by stages of disease and age groups so you are with other people going through something similar to you.
We try to help everyone: patients, caregivers, family and friends. We work on dealing with stress, loss of a loved one, ongoing treatments, recovery, quality of life issues, and learning to cope with a new “normal.” We want to make sure that people are living their lives in the best way they can, regardless of what their diagnosis may be and treat everyone based on their individual needs.
In addition, we offer group activities that rebuild the body, alleviate stress, and are creative for the mind and spirit. We have different kinds of educational and nutritional workshops available to weSPARK patients as well.
Why do you think it’s important to offer support to caregivers, friends and family, too?
I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t been touched by this disease. And if you are emotionally connected to a loved one going through cancer, you need support too. You may not be the hands-on caregiver but if it is someone close to you there is a need for a place to have that conversation and deal with the emotional effects.
We try to treat each person based on his or her own individual situation and needs.
How can someone get involved with weSPARK?
We are currently located in Sherman Oaks but my goal in the next three years is to open another office in Los Angeles to provide access to more patients in need. It would be great to one day be able to have support centers like weSPARK open all over the World.
We have a website that lists our current schedule of activities and support groups available. With new patients we do an intake and orientation to assess what your support needs are and suggest what groups and activities that might be of value. If you are interested in volunteering or donating you can visit our website for that information as well.