Unforgettable SurThrivor®: Remembering Ann Fonfa
When the news arrived by email last Monday, January 29th, from Fran Visco, President of the National Breast Cancer Coalition that Ann E. (Ellen) Fonfa founder of The Annie Appleseed Project, died a week short of her 76th birthday, those of us who knew her, loved her and respected her were stunned.
I first met Ann in 2009 when I was introduced to her by her Annie Appleseed conference producer, Julia Chiappetta, author of Breast Cancer The Notebook. Julia, who treated her own breast cancer with complementary and alternative therapies was Ann’s Apostle, and when I say Apostle I mean secular follower as Ann and Julia were polar opposites when it came to faith and politics, but identical in their advocacy for the power of complementary and alternative therapies for cancer treatment.
The 2009 conference was also where I first met Maryann Makekau, author of When Your Mom Has Cancer, part of her Little Pink Book series.
It is also where I was introduced to the colorful artistic presentations of “not to die for” vegan food.
When I called Maryann to talk about Ann, because that is how we grieve when people we love and respect die, we talk it out. She remarked, “When I think of Ann, food is what first comes to mind. All those vibrant colors of veggies and fruits on the buffet table.”
Ann’s forks-over-knives diet to help heal our bodies was paramount for her. Wherever she traveled, wherever she spoke, Ann would seek out the best vegan restaurants and invite us advocates to dine at her table.
“We need to have a parallel thirst for life as Ann did. We all need to go about life like it was our best meal,” said Maryann.
Since 1993 when Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer, she sought and fought for true Integrative Oncology options, while scrutinizing all conventional therapies.
Ann’s concern was not only would conventional treatment paradigms be effective, but moreover what additional harms were they causing?
Long before COVID-19, Ann masked up, protecting her immune system from unwanted visitors. And she spoke up.
Ann spoke up at conferences and meetings, questioning and challenging those with multiple letters after their last names. She diplomatically demanded they think differently.
Ann advocated for others, raising scholarships for patients to attend her conference who were struggling with medical bills, understanding that financial barriers were challenging for patients with medical debt to become knowledgeable about other treatment modalities.
Early on, Ann saw the benefit of Pink Fund’s mission. She knew all too well how financial hardships could impact survivorship.
She nominated me twice to sit as a director on the board of The National Breast Cancer Coalition where I am in the second year of a three-year term.
Award-winning medical writer, Patricia Anstett (Kiska) featured Ann, (and me) in her 2016 book, Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction: What’s Right for You.
“Ann Fonfa was an incredible woman and longtime cancer survivor who made a major contribution to the field of oncology with her tireless voice to improve cancer care through more holistic options, particularly through a better understanding of nutrition. She also strongly supported LGBTQ and reproductive choice causes. She was unforgettable in many ways," said Pat.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2005, people would casually remark, “Oh, so you are a Survivor." And I would protest, “No, no, no I have not finished treatment.” I learned that the term Survivor applies from the moment of diagnosis when you inhale that first breath of disbelief until the moment of death when you exhale your final earthly breath.
The term Survivor troubled me. What about all the people who took their cancer experience and made a difference? What happens to all they have accomplished when they die? What do we call them then?
That is when I coined the term SurThrivor® a term without an expiration date. A term that will forever define the work they did while here, and the legacy they left behind.
Ann Fonfa is that to me and more.
Here are the words those whose lives were touched by Ann used to describe her:
Force of nature
Force for Good
Champion for peace
Source of knowledge
Beacon of hope
In the words of Kelly Corrigan, breast cancer survivor, author, and podcaster, “Ann, thanks for being here.”
To learn more about Ann E. Fonfa and Annie Appleseed click here.