What is your favorite AK item and why?
I love the Alexandra Knight cuffs commissioned for the Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation (ASCF). I have the original in red alligator as well as the ASCF signature teal in python. Not only do they provide that punch of color to my otherwise very monochromatic wardrobe, but I am constantly complimented on them which provides me with an opportunity to share the story behind them including the connection both Alex and I have to sarcoma.
What are your latest obsessions and why?
As a "recovering perfectionist", what am I not obsessed about? I have multiple food sensitivities so I'm pretty fanatical about what I put in my body which means I prefer to prepare my own food. When we do choose to eat out as a family, two of our faves are Ruggles Green & Guru Burger.
Because of the food limitations I have, I usually create my own recipes but I get a lot of ideas from Lisa Leake's blog 100 Days of Real Food. I am in love with my Vitamix as it allows me to make smoothies, homemade hummus & creamy non-dairy soups in a pinch.
I'll also admit to being a bit of a germaphobe (likely the result of spending too much time in hospitals). You will always find EO Peppermint Hand Sanitizer & a stash of Simple Cleansing Facial Wipes in my bag, car & on the boat.
What are your top five prized possessions?
While they are not all possessions, the gifts I most cherish include my:
As it has seen me through loss I would have otherwise found impossible to overcome.
On the other side of loss, I found three of my greatest blessings: my husband James and daughters MaryAnna & Ava. I'm also fortunate enough to have parents & in-laws I adore (especially since I have two sets of them).
Time with my girlfriends
Not only does it keep me connected but I've always got a camera with me to snap shots of my girls.
Olivia & Otis
Best Advice you have ever received?
People will always remember how you made them feel.
Personal Mantra or quote you tote around with you?
"The time is always right to do what is right."
"The ultimate measure of a [wo]man is not where [s]he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where [s]he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Both are from Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tell us about how you started Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation and how it came to be?
Sometimes you don't select your mission but rather it finds you. On August 16, 1999, I learned that my then 29 year old husband, Tom, had cancer. Even worse, he had sarcoma, one of the deadliest forms of cancer in both children & adults. Despite all the advantages we had, we knew this fight would be one that would test us beyond our limits. Still, we embarked upon the journey, learning as much as we could about the disease & the many personal challenges facing others like us. Only after taking inventory of both the needs & resources within the sarcoma landscape, did we realize the scarcity of funding for sarcoma specific research & the desperate need for tangible support for families affected by the disease.
The Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation was the vision of my late husband Tom Amschwand. In February 2001 (the same month he died), ASCF was founded with the purpose of creating a greater awareness of sarcoma, supporting those with the disease & directly funding sarcoma research.
What is your background?
Prior to ASCF, I served in an advisory capacity for a number of non-profit organizations. I have my Masters in Public Health with a specialty in Health Promotion/Health Education from the University of Texas School of Public Health & an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
In December 2004, I resigned my position as Senior Vice-President of Patient and Public Affairs for the Harris County Hospital District to focus on ASCF as a full-time volunteer. (ASCF is a volunteer run organization).
What inspires you to continue this huge foundation day in and day out?
I am inspired daily by the personal stories of the families served by ASCF. My sense of urgency and level of commitment stems from the contact I have with real families in need. I am also inspired by members of our leadership team who are so dedicated to the ASCF mission & resolute in their genuine commitment to meeting the needs of the families we serve.
Tell me the top things that ASCF does and its mission?
The goal of the Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation is to advance the long-term survival & quality of life of sarcoma patients. Today, about half of those diagnosed with sarcoma (including thousands of children & young people) will be resistant to treatment. Our aim is to ensure that effective treatments are identified in our lifetime for all sarcoma patients. In the meantime, we also work to create a greater awareness of the disease and to minimize emotional & financial burdens associated with treatment by providing tangible support (in the form of short-term housing & informational tools) to patients & families.
What do you see in the future for ASCF? What would your organization do with additional resources?
Unfortunately, scarce funding for sarcoma research continues to be problematic. For many, sarcoma remains a death sentence. Through strategic support of sarcoma research & the elimination of barriers to accessing specialty care, ASCF can change this. With additional resources, we can house more patients seeking specialty care away from home. We can work to create a greater awareness of the disease & minimize delays in diagnosis. We can increase the amount of sarcoma research being conducted & ensure that those doing the research meet necessary benchmarks in a timely manner.
I look forward to the day when all sarcoma is treatable. This is the future I see for ASCF...a future where our work is no longer necessary.
You are changing people's lives at ASCF, can you share a personal story that made you glad you do what you do?
There are so many. Most sarcoma patients don't have the luxury of being seen by a sarcoma specialist in their hometown. Many travel vast distances at great personal cost to get their best shot of survival.
Chas came to us from New Mexico, seven months pregnant, with a sarcoma diagnosis. Like most of the families we serve, the situation was urgent. Chas' family ended up staying in one of ASCF's medical center apartments for months. I'll never forget getting the call that she and baby Caleb were "coming home" to the apartment. While mom continued her treatment, the apartment was their "home away from home." It would be in that apartment that they would celebrate Caleb's first Thanksgiving & Christmas. In addition to the housing we provided, ASCF furnished meals & gifts for the holidays.
ASCF has provided more than 4000 nights of free housing to families like Chas and Caleb's. You just can't imagine the blessing housing can be for the families we serve. It is really a privilege to be the one who gets to tell them that thanks to the generosity of our donors, the housing is one less thing for them to worry.
What are two things that people would never know about you?
I have worn my late husband Tom's watch every day of my life since he died in 2001. I gave it to him as a Valentine's Day gift the previous year. It reminds me that time is to be treasured.
I developed a number of food sensitivities in my forties which forced me to seriously reexamine my vegetarian lifestyle which was high in grain and dairy. I now adhere to a mostly paleo diet which includes lots of colorful organic veggies, fruits, nuts, organic grass-fed beef as well as poultry & select wild caught seafood.
What are your favorite apps on your iPhone or iPad?
While I have given up Facebook for Lent this year, it is one way I stay connected to family and friends especially those who live elsewhere including my girls' birth families. Facebook has also been a great medium through which we share the Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation mission.
I love being able to simply scan the bar code when I'm running low on something in my fridge or pantry.
What are your beauty essentials?
My mom always told me "pretty is as pretty does" but at this time of the year our family spends so much time on the bay (either on our boat or at our family weekend home on Tiki Island) that a few other things are a must:
SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion SPF 50 (for my face)
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 40 Sunscreen Cream (for everywhere else)
Coolibar Beach Hats (to shield my face from the sun)
Sheer moisturizing lip stick (NARS in Dolce Vita)
What is your guilty pleasure?
With multiple food sensitivities, it can be difficult to satisfy those sweet & salty cravings without totally sabotaging myself. Some of my "go to" guilty pleasures include:
Lundberg Sweet Chili Rice Cakes with a little 365 organic unsweetened peanut butter on top
Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Vanilla herbal & lemon zinger teas
Where do you go to escape?
Our family's home on Tiki Island.
For a special treat, James & I love to revisit the Cayman Islands where we were married almost 10 years ago.
With so many worthy causes out there, what is your philosophy when it comes to being philanthropic?
Give from a place of authenticity and desire to want to make a difference. Look for nonprofits who take seriously the importance of being good stewards of the funds entrusted to them. Invest in those who do more with less and you will likely see a greater return on your investment.
Where can people learn more about ASCF and how can they help?
Consider a gift to ASCF. Your donation will provide funding for an ASCF's post-doctoral fellowship or free housing for a patient & family plus transportation to/from housing to any Texas Medical Center hospital...
$100* = one night of free housing plus a holiday meal.
$500* = more than an entire week of free housing.
$2000* = one month of free housing.
$5000* - $12,000* = Up to six months of free housing.
$24,000* = 1 year of free housing or nearly ½ year of funding for an ASCF post-doctoral fellowship.
$50,000* = 1 year funding for an ASCF's post-doctoral fellowship.
* Values are not limited to the above giving levels and represent approximate costs.
To make a tax deductible donation, visit us here.
Who is Melissa Amschwand Bellinger and why do we love her?