A Compassionate Community Organization Rooted in Unwavering Support and Care for Those Living with A Cancer Diagnosis
No one walks alone.
Founded in 1998, Candy’s Place is a cancer and wellness resource center in Forty Fort. The nonprofit organization offers free services to anyone 18 years and older, with any cancer diagnosis. The complimentary services also extend to up to 3 caregivers as well.
Penny Cunningham founded the organization in memory of her sister Candice Vincent-Mamary. “Candy,” a beloved social worker, passed away in 1998 after a courageous battle with end-stage lung cancer. With what little time remained for her, Candy envisioned a better way to help, support and care for those too often battling cancer on their own. Penny, with the help of a generous community, brought Candy’s dream to life.
From its inception, Candy’s Place has always focused on the individual and their unique struggle. We took a peek beyond this successful, enduring mission. And we found perhaps the truest testament to the organization’s longevity, persistence and dedication to care – the kind, honest words of survivors.
Sheila Brandon, Breast Cancer Survivor
Accepting your new self – your new, post-diagnosis/post-treatment self.
In October 2017, after a routine mammogram, Sheila Brandon was diagnosed with breast cancer. Soon, she underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. After 10 of 12 scheduled rounds of chemotherapy, neuropathy set in and she could no longer feel her feet. She had enough. Following treatment, Sheila spent six long months on the couch.
Before the diagnosis, Sheila made her living cleaning houses. Unfortunately, she wasn’t physically capable of working during treatment. Remarkably, and thanks to her devoted clients, she didn’t lose a single job. They waited for her to get well.
Sheila reminisced a while about her long, dark brown hair. It reached below her hips at one point. The chemo took that from her. When her hair eventually did grow back, it was white. There was also a steroid “cocktail” as she describes it. That made her put on some weight. Everything changes with cancer and treatment. There are physical changes, of course, but it also changes who you are and how you view yourself. And that was a harsh, new reality for Sheila. “When I look in the mirror and I see the white hair, I have to accept that I’m no longer the person I used to be. I have to accept who I am now.”
Unexpected, charming and immediately calming.
While undergoing treatments, a good friend, scheduled her for a free massage at Candy’s Place. Initially, she didn’t know what to expect. So, she took the tour and learned all about their services. Then, she came back for a yoga class to help with nerve damage. Soon after, she signed up for a personal training session and then a facial. Before she realized it, Sheila says, she was “hooked.” And since, she has never looked back.
“The staff is absolutely phenomenal. They treat you like you’re an actual human being and they care. You build a rapport with them,” Sheila says.
Sheila has participated in many of the services at Candy’s Place including yoga classes, personal training sessions, massage therapy, and vibrational sound therapy among others. And, now, she’s spending much of her time giving back. Sheila routinely volunteers her time to veteran’s organizations.
Even when I come for the massage, or I come for a facial, it’s that relaxation and letting your mind just be without worrying about doctors, and test results, and treatment, and medication. This is my getaway.
Sheila Brandon, Breast Cancer Survivor
Mike Hague, Brain Cancer Survivor
A caring, supportive environment for all.
While auditioning for a musical at the Little Theatre in Wilkes-Barre, Mike Hague began to feel ill. He’s diabetic. So, initially, he assumed his blood sugar was low. He drank a soda. It didn’t help. Mike started feeling dizzy and, soon, he had trouble speaking. Next, he remembers waking up after surgery with 70 staples in the side of his head. Everything else in between was a blur. It turns out Mike had a seizure caused by a brain tumor. Soon, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer.
After his first surgery, Mike attempted to return to work. It didn’t last long. He says it took him a long time to learn that he just wasn’t going to be as productive as before. He had to move back home with his parents, and he even had to give up driving for a while. Mike describes his cancer as always present, but not necessarily active. As far as he knows, he can never be considered cured or in remission.
A (He) Man Cave
The He-Man Cancer Haters Support Group
Mike learned about Candy’s Place while in the hospital. He was curious, though, he says, all the programs seemed to be designed for women with breast cancer. His perception, however, changed in the fall of 2019 when he received a call from Candy’s Place Executive Director, Lisa Orlandini. She explained to Mike that Candy’s Place had evolved to address the needs of both men and women diagnosed with cancer.
He revisited, and this time he decided to get involved in a big way. Mike teamed up with Jeff Thomas, a stage 3 esophageal cancer survivor. Together, they created the He-Man Cancer Haters support group.
A little something for the boys.
With an assist from generous donors, Candy’s Place was able to transform one of their rooms into what they now call the Man Cave. The room is outfitted with recliners, a dart board, a flat screen TV and DVD player. It’s a comfy space for them to hang out. More importantly, it’s a safe place for them to talk about their diagnoses and treatment.
The group usually meets in the Man Cave although they’re exploring future meet ups out in the community. A typical meeting involves introductions, presentations and discussions. Afterwards, they enjoy a little refreshment and conversation before ending their meeting.
“We found that when we get people here, they say, okay, I’ll come, but I’ll just listen,” Thomas says. “And then, before you know it, they’re spilling their guts.” For Thomas and the rest of the He-Man Cancer Haters, just having a place to share their stories makes all the difference.
Cancer is unique to people who get it. For me, it changed the way I looked at relationships. It changed the way I looked at what was going on with the rest of my life. I do a lot more traveling. I have a lot more fun. I live in the moment a lot more.
Jeff Thomas, Stage 3 Esophageal Cancer Survivor
Rick Berry, Throat Cancer Survivor
Sharing the pain, the hope, the healing.
Rick Berry was diagnosed with throat cancer in December 2017. He began treatments in January 2018. Overall, Rick underwent 3 chemo treatments and 35 radiation treatments. “It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever gone through. It was really depressing,” he says. “Understand that if you don’t see progress when you go through an ailment, you just see no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Before cancer, Rick describes himself as a very healthy, outgoing person. He often remarks that the cancer had simply beaten him up. On the other side of treatment, Rick found himself with constant ringing in the ears, hearing loss and neuropathy in his feet. “It was hard to deal with that — knowing where I was pre-cancer and then post-treatment.” He struggled with PTSD throughout his recovery.
As his physical recovery progressed, Rick realized that it wasn’t all just about the body. He was also recovering from the emotional and psychological trauma of cancer. He sought out Candy’s Place in October of 2019.
Bonding through stories of survival and strength.
Rick felt he needed to share his story. He was able to do just that in the Peer to Peer support group at Candy’s Place. He also listened as other survivors shared their journeys and their struggles. In one of these initial group sessions, Rick recalls, he heard exactly what he needed to hear. One of the members said, “You have to grieve who you were.”
For Rick, at that moment, it all just kind of clicked. “I realized that I had to grieve who I was and accept who I am.” He now regularly attends meetings for the He-Man Cancer Haters and the Peer to Peer Group.
Today, Rick is focused on giving back to the place that was there for him during his darkest moment. He’s since joined the Board of Directors at Candy’s Place. And, for him, helping just one person in any small way would be enough. “If I can help one person not have to suffer like I did, that’s a hell of a success for me.”
Life gets better. You really learn to appreciate so much more. It’s so much easier to live on the cloud. You don’t let other people bother you. You understand that you have no idea what they’re going through, they have no idea what you’ve gone through, so just accept them for who they are because life goes on.
Rick Berry, Throat Cancer Survivor
Lisa Orlandini, Executive Director, Candy's Place
Going a step beyond.
It’s been nearly two years since Lisa Orlandini began her work as Executive Director at Candy’s Place. In that first year, she found herself steering the organization through its most recent transformation. In February of 2019, Candy’s Place relocated to a larger, more suitable space. A move, Lisa feels, that has already fundamentally improved their services for current and future clients.
Lisa is an Exeter native and King’s College alum. She started her career in the Information Technology industry in New Jersey. The tragic events of 9/11 and the ensuing economic downturn brought her back home. Here, she changed gears and discovered an unexpected passion within the local healthcare industry.
For Lisa, cancer always seemed to be close by. Over the last 20 years, her mother had endured 4 different cancer diagnoses. Her most recent and final diagnosis – stage 4 colon cancer. Lisa’s mother passed nearly a month ago. And while she looked back over her mother’s last few decades, she was reminded of just how important it is to have access to a supportive, caring community like Candy’s Place.
Candy’s Place is not only what you want it to be, but what you need it to be.
One memory of her mother that always stood out for Lisa was how her mom would describe visits to the doctor. “Everything’s about cancer,” she’d say. “I know I’ve got cancer. Give me something else to look at.” Joy sparked in Lisa’s eyes as she remembered her mother’s voice and her tough NEPA attitude.
“That’s what Candy’s Place is – that something else,” Lisa mused.
She explains that, at Candy’s Place, they refer to those they serve as clients. They want them to feel like every visit is a day at the spa – an escape from everything else. For Lisa, there’s merit, of course, and a definite need for all of the clinical stuff. The goal at Candy’s Place, however, is focusing on anything and everything they can do to support clients in their recovery and wellness. It’s about supporting the physical, emotional, and social needs of those diagnosed with cancer to enhance their medical treatment.
A note on current services at Candy’s Place.
Due to COVID-19 and concerns for the health and safety of their clients, Candy’s Place is currently operating with limited, in-person services. Many one-on-one services are currently by appointment only. All staff will be adhering to recommended federal, state and local health and safety guidelines. Appropriate face masks are required for everyone entering the center.
Services at Candy’s Place include activities focused on wellness, movement, healing arts and meditation. Clients can sign up for yoga, deep relaxation, personal training sessions, reiki, massage therapy, reflexology, spa services and so much more. The center features a state-of-the-art gym and licensed, certified and experienced instructors, trainers and therapists.
Emotional, Social & Psychological Support Services
Candy’s Place brings clients together to share stories, grieve and offer a community of support. The center features comfortable, private meeting space for various support groups. Current groups include: The He-Man Cancer Haters, Grief Support, Breast Cancer Support and Peer to Peer Support.
Boutique and Haberdashery
The popular Candy’s Place Boutique and Haberdashery offers a full line of wigs, scarves, hats, bandanas, blankets, chest buddies (for post-surgery needs) and seat belt covers for those with ports. They have also recently expanded their selection to include more products for men.
In our effort to create Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most comprehensive nonprofit directory, we came across hundreds of amazing organizations. Naturally, we wanted to share their inspiring stories.
In this series, we aim to highlight the hard-working organizations, the good people, the selfless volunteers, the helpers, the healers, the listeners, the comforters and all the great work they do. We hope that, through these stories, you too will be inspired to lend your time, your hands and your hearts. Follow along as we take a look beyond the mission statement.