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posted: 7/28/2012 10:26 AM

Roselle-based Phil's Friends supports cancer patients through spirituality

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  • After fighting back cancer twice, Phil Zielke launched Phil's Friends to provide spiritual support to cancer patients. With donations and money raised at fundraisers -- like the annual golf outing Zielke hosts with his wife, Carrie -- the group sends prayers and care packages to patients.

      After fighting back cancer twice, Phil Zielke launched Phil's Friends to provide spiritual support to cancer patients. With donations and money raised at fundraisers -- like the annual golf outing Zielke hosts with his wife, Carrie -- the group sends prayers and care packages to patients.
    Courtesy of Phil's Friends

 
 

We never know how we'd deal with adversity or personal tragedy until we're staring it in the face with no choice but to go through it.

We could curl up, wonder why and try to wish it away.

Or we could gather our strength and attack it head on, use it to discover who we really are and where we fit into this world.

That's the path Phil Zielke took.

For Zielke, adversity came at him in the form of stage 4B Hodgkin's Lymphoma -- not once, but twice. Diagnosed in April 2004, he endured aggressive treatments and tested free of the cancer by October that year. In April 2005, doctors told Zielke the cancer had returned. After another round of treatment -- this time including a stem cell transplant -- Zielke was again cancer-free by November 2005.

He emerged from the cancer with his health, with a deeper faith and with a greater sense of purpose for his life. He would help others through their own fights with cancer.

While still in treatment himself, Zielke thought of the things that gave him comfort -- his family and friends, his faith. He envisioned a group of volunteers who would support cancer patients physically and spiritually. And he created Phil's Friends.

Today, the faith-based outreach program has a network of volunteers who pray for those battling cancer, send supportive cards, and put together and send care packages to patients. The care packages include items to occupy the mind and comfort the body as well as items like prayer books to be spiritually encouraging. Patients or their caregivers can visit the organization's website, philsfriends.org, to request prayers, cards or care packages.

Phil's Friends, based in Roselle, sends or delivers the care packages for free. A golf outing on Wednesday, Aug. 1, helps fund the program. Lauren Coleman, Phil's Friends' volunteer coordinator, tells us more about the organization.

Q. What's the mission of Phil's Friends?

A. Our mission is to bring Christ-centered hope and support to those who are affected by cancer.

Q. How do you work toward accomplishing that goal?

A. We do this through sending care packages to anyone who is going through cancer treatment, weekly cards and letters, prayer, and one-on-one support in the forms of home visits and phone calls.

Q. Whom do you serve?

A. We are based in Roselle, but we support cancer patients in all 50 states as well as internationally in China, Pakistan, India, Canada and the Bahamas.

Q. When and why did the organization start? How has it grown?

A. The organization was started in 2006 by Phil Zielke, a two-time cancer survivor. While battling cancer in 2004 and again in 2005, he saw the need to provide hope to those battling the disease. Phil was blessed to have a great support system while he was fighting his battle, but unfortunately, many others do not.

Phil's Friends originally operated out of Phil's basement and now we have a facility in Roselle equipped with not only our offices and our warehouse, but also with a packing facility that allows groups to come in and assist us with packing care packages for the cancer patients we serve.

Q. What kind of successes have you had?

A. Our biggest successes have come from the service we provide. Any time we hear back from a person who lets us know that our organization helped them through the most difficult time in their life, we consider that a success. We are here to serve those who are going through cancer and they are our No. 1 priority.

Q. What challenges does Phil's Friends currently face?

A. Our biggest challenge has been to get the word out about us and what we do. Even though we have grown in size from serving 200 cancer patients on a weekly basis to now over 1,200, there are still so many others who are battling the disease that we are not supporting yet.

Q. What do you wish the community at large knew about Phil's Friends?

A. I wish more people knew who we are and what we do. Everyone is touched by cancer in some way, whether they personally have battled the disease or they have a loved one who has. We want to support everyone who is battling the disease.

Q. How can readers get involved?

A. We have many volunteer opportunities. One can get involved by coming into our office and assisting us with the weekly cards. We also have booths at many local events we are always looking for help with.

In addition, we have our new packing center where one can bring their class or group into the facility to pack care packages.

Any additional information about volunteering can be received by calling our office at (224) 653-8315.

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