A lot of the stories I do for The Last Word are designed to hopefully make you smile. But, I'm now presenting a story about people living with cancer. However, that doesn't mean the story won't make you smile.

I visited the Erie Cancer Wellness Center on West 15th Street on the Erie/Millcreek line.  It’s a shining light for people diagnosed with cancer. It is a place of love and laughter. On the night I visited, the center was hosting an event called Holly Jolly Beautiful You.  People living with cancer, cancer survivors, caregivers, and family members have all been invited to get their hair styled, get their nails done, get a massage, or even try on a wig. The Erie Cancer Wellness Center is not a place where people come to get chemotherapy. Far from it.  This is where people come to escape from the dark place that is cancer.  It's where they learn they don't have to go through their cancer journey alone.

"This place has brought me up, lifted me, and just refreshed me, says Kathy Maughn.  

Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021. She first walked into the wellness center without hair.  She felt uncomfortable.  It was the last time she felt that way.

"One of the greatest things about the place is that when you walk in and you feel the sense of calm, peace, serenity.  To me, it feels like I'm being hugged as I walk through the door, says Kathy.  

Besides the makeovers, the center offers chair yoga, meditation, and art classes.  Brenda Csakany takes a knitting class called 'Knit and Bitch.'  There's never a lack of laughter in that class and it feels good.

"When you have cancer, it's like riding a roller coaster in the dark,” says Brenda.  “And I just feel like the wellness center is a light at the end of my tunnel that just opened up everything for me." 

Marijane Dillon had her nails done at the Holly Jolly Beautiful You event. She is battling breast cancer but is not doing it alone. She has her fellow participants and staff.

"You could need to cry.  You could need to laugh or you just need to come in and share something. And they're so supportive.  I love it,” said Marijane with a smile.  

Joe Dillon, Marijane's husband, is always by his wife's side as she goes through her cancer journey. He accompanies her to the center. He's thankful that there is a place like this in Erie.

"It's a respite from what they're thinking about, what they're feeling,” says Joe.  “They come in here and they forget about it.  They're talking about all kinds of stuff other than cancer.”

The Erie Cancer Wellness Center is an independent, local, and privately funded organization.  It relies solely on donations.   All services provided by the center are offered at no cost.