Circle of Love celebrates life, history

To honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a local organization decided to celebrate love and life. The Circle of Love held a gathering to honor and celebrate the organization’s history, as well as life and love.

“We’re here to celebrate life. The Circle of Love keeps growing because of all of you,” founder Josie Christopher said.

The Circle of Love and the Prayer Shawl Ministry started in the early 1990s when Christopher was asked to start a support group for cancer patients out of Dr. Kaushik Damania’s office. Christopher said she does best by helping those in need, and Damania knew of her compassion.

“My experience is making a difference in someone’s life when they need it the most,” she said.

Christopher said she was only given a single piece of paper on support groups when she first started. When she first started the support group, she started a journaling class for patients but eventually moved into knitting and crocheting. At first, the Circle of Love only made small pillows for cancer patients to use after undergoing a mastectomy. The pillows soon grew larger and were given to all surgery patients and those in intensive care units. The Circle of Love started to get into wigs in the past few years after a donation was given to the organization by a local teacher and his wife in honor of their daughter, who was battling cancer. Carm White also was involved with the wig ministry. White was a patient of Dr. Raman Sood’s, where Christopher first met her.

Area doctors and people who have been involved with the Circle of Love from the beginning also spoke on behalf of their experiences with cancer or the organization.

“The fact we’re all here together, I’m very pleased you’re all here,” Christopher said.

Rev. Barry Lillis, who is a chaplain at ECMC, has used the Circle of Love pillows and prayers shawls for patients who are in wheel beds and wheelchairs. Lillis said giving pillows and shawls to patients brings smiles.

“When someone is paying attention to them, they feel loved. A big smile comes over their faces,” Lillis said.

Dr. John Mackalevey lost his mother to breast cancer when he was 12 years old. He said following her death, after being undecided about college, he finally went to medical school. He said his step-mother and sister were also diagnosed with breast cancer. His sister paid for genetic testing, which helped saved another sister’s life. When Mackalevey’s other sister was diagnosed with something in her lung, she knew she had the gene linked to breast cancer, so she opted to have preventive surgery.

“She’s alive today because of my older sister,” Mackalevey said.

Mackalevey also had connections with Theresa Milazzo. Milazzo was involved with the Circle of Love when it was first starting.

Sood took over for Dr. Damania. His sister-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and he took prayer shawls, pillows and other supplies from the Circle of Love to her in India. Sood thanked Christopher and the Circle of Love for their work.

“It’s a great resource in the community,” he said. “Keep up the good work.”

All the yarn that is purchased for the prayer shawls is purchased through proceeds raised by Sing For the Cure, which is held annually at the Williams Center at SUNY Fredonia. Entertainment was provided by singer Carmen Quinones who sang “Let It Be” by the Beatles and was accompanied by Ian Liedke on keyboard.

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