Real Stories: Sarah and Wayne fights cancer with the help of SNAP

June 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Eating enough healthy nutritious food can be difficult for many low income families. When you’re battling cancer, and dealing with treatment, maintaining proper nutrition within a meager budget can be a real challenge.

When Sarah O’Brien, 29, was told she had cancer last year, her world turned upside down. “I used to sit up at night and just watch my daughter breathe because I was afraid,” she says.  “I always took my health for granted. I biked to work, I worked all day and I could ride home no problem. [When I was sick] there was a period of time when I couldn’t pick up my daughter. She’s 25 lbs.” Although she is cancer-free today, her partner Wayne, 36, who was diagnosed with lung cancer around the same time as Sarah, continues to battle through chemo and radiation treatments.

The Food Bank’s services make it possible for Sara, Wayne and others facing cancer to take on one of the biggest challenges of their lives with proper nutrition.  AmeriCorps VISTA Alese Colehour interviewed Sarah and Wayne  at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, a CAFB Partner Agency, where they were applying for SNAP and receiving food assistance.

Alese: Sarah, what do you do for a living?

Sarah: I’m a rigger and a stagehand. I work for the local stagehands union and the University of Texas and various performing arts venues. [Now,] I’m doing little things. My employer is helping me out giving me easy hours and easy things to do. This week I’ve had nearly 20 hours a week to work. Hopefully that will keep increasing. The idea is not to ever have to come back to the food pantry or apply for food stamps ever again. Maybe that’s not realistic, but I hope that it is.

To take charity food is not something I want to be doing, but I accept it gratefully because I want to feed my family. I’m very grateful that this is here and these resources are available but it’s not something I want to depend on.

Alese: How did it feel when you were told you didn’t have cancer anymore?

Sarah: It was pretty awesome. It was a big weight off my shoulders. Everything seemed that much shinier—sparkly. Now we’re just going to get his cancer gone and then we can look at the big things—a house and that sort of thing.

Wayne: Tally-ho!

Sarah (laughing): He’s a tough guy. You’d never know, but he gets chemo and radiation and all that. My daughter’s father helped as well. He came through a bunch of times when I was too sick to handle her. It was hard for her; Mom was no fun anymore. [Zoë would] come in and pat me on the head when I was throwing up. “It’s okay, Mama, you throw up, it’s okay.” The cat was really upset when anybody was throwing up. Friends come over and help me to hang out with my daughter. If I didn’t have to chase after her, I could have fun with her.

Alese: You applied for SNAP/food stamps today. Could you talk about why you decided to apply?

Sarah: Right now I feel like I’m getting back on my feet again. To be able to take the stress of money for food out of the equation for a couple months until the work is steady and the checks are coming in regular again – that would be really helpful, to be able to put money in the car to get to work. That is, until I can ride my bike again, because that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. There’s no extra money right now. There’s none. To be able to have more options of what to spend it on because of food assistance, that would be really helpful. Again, the plan is it’s temporary. I don’t want to renew it.

Alese : Do you have any dreams for the future?

Sarah: I [don’t want] to worry that the bills will be paid…and to have that extra bit to go out and see a movie. Take the kids somewhere that costs money. Get some work done on the car, the teeth, eyeglasses, new shoes. Get cable TV. [Zoë’s] plan is to be a ballerina. She got to be backstage at the Austin Ballet performance of the Nutcracker. Ever since, she has worn a tutu. So that’s her dream and if that’s what she wants, I fully support her as long as she keeps up her studies.  You never know when you’re going to break an ankle and have to fall back on the brain pan.  I think she wants a kitten too. Ballerina. Kitten. That covers her dreams. And a new pack of stickers.

Alese: Did either of you grow up hungry?

Wayne: There was food in my house but my dad kicked me out when I was 15. So I ate out of dumpsters for 10 years.

Sarah: We didn’t have enough food, but my mom was really good about not making it seem that way. I don’t remember it as being hard times, but I’m sure my mom does. Which I guess is how it should be. It’s for us to shoulder the burden and for the kids to grow up and do their thing. I have a really awesome daughter. I like her.

Alese: Anything else you’d like to say?

Sarah: We’re really grateful that this is here and we’re able to come when we need it. It saved the day for us today because the fridge was pretty empty. Thank you!

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