HARWICH – Sarah Swain, founder of the Cape Wellness Collaborative and the Cape Cod Women's Music Festival, has been honored with The American Red Cross of Massachusetts Community Service Hero Award.
Inspired to make a difference in her community after losing her mother to ovarian cancer, Swain, a local musician, created the annual Cape Cod Women’s Music Festival (CCWMF) in her mother’s honor in 2012. In 2014, Swain founded and is now CEO of the non-profit Cape Wellness Collaborative (CWC), which works with a team of over 100 local wellness professionals to provide free integrative therapies to anyone facing cancer on the Cape and Islands. For the past four years Swain has organized the CWC’s biggest fundraiser, Dancing with the Docs, which has raised over $400,000 to bring free treatment and care to our Cape neighbors living with cancer.
The American Red Cross of Massachusetts Everyday Heroes Awards are celebrations all over the country at which the Red Cross honors people who personify the organization's mission of service and help in local communities. The American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast is usually held in April, but due to COVID-19 it was postponed until the fall. Since it’s not yet safe to hold an in-person event, the awards were distributed by mail last week.
Swain describes the feeling that permeates the mission and activities of everyone involved in both the CWC and the CCWMF as a “love bomb” when asked about the way the community has come together to support people who are facing a cancer diagnosis and all that entails.
“At first I thought it was just me feeling that way at CCWMF, but over the years I have heard it described in a similar way by so many people,” Swain said. “I think it’s a combination of the joy that comes from celebrating all of the incredible female performers and also being empowered, together, to make a difference.”
Cancer can make us feel so helpless and powerless, Swain went on to explain, whether it’s someone we love or ourselves dealing with a diagnosis. She said that much of what CWC and CCWMF are about is empowering their clients, supporters, the audience, and performers.
“CWC gives us something we can actually do that physically helps our friends and neighbors facing this indiscriminate disease in a meaningful way,” she said. “Combine that with some super-talented female music creators and you've got yourself a bonafide love bomb. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. I can’t wait to be together again.”
About 1,400 people on Cape Cod are diagnosed with cancer every year. Many of them would benefit from integrative therapies to manage pain and nausea, reduce anxiety and increase well-being during their illness. Sadly, most of these therapies – acupuncture, massage, energy work, yoga, nutritional counseling and more — are not covered by insurance. Even those who are able to try integrative therapies and who benefit from them may not have the opportunity to continue. That's where CWC shines.
“There are so many resources available to you, an array of integrative therapies (remote and in-person), meals, caregiver support, a weekly support Zoom-group, and more,” Swain said. “We know from people that have used the program that it works; that’s why we are so passionate.”
So many people have a tricky relationship with being able to accept help, Swain said, admitting that she tends to fall into this category herself. For many people, it is much harder to receive than to give. Swain has often heard from people who are going through intense cancer treatment and say that although they would benefit from the services and therapies CWC can provide, they don’t want to take the services away from anyone else.
“Your community has donated so people just like you can feel better,” Swain said. “Helping people facing cancer is why CWC exists. By receiving, you are giving your community the gift of being able to serve and love you through Cape Wellness Collaborative. Your medical team can treat your cancer, CWC is here for you, mind-body-spirit.”
When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on CWC's mission, Swain expressed pride in the efforts made by CWC staff, board, and practitioners, as everyone quickly pivoted and created safe ways to support CWC clients. They ramped up the CWC meals program, Wellness Eats, led by Chef Gabrielle Kennedy of Chatham, to make sure nutritious meals make their way to those who need them. Swain expressed gratitude that the CWC main fundraiser, Dancing with the Docs, took place on Feb. 29, before the pandemic changed everything.
“If we weren’t able to have that event, we would be in a very different place right now,” Swain said. “Thank you to all who attended and supported. We had no idea that just a couple weeks later we would be knitting a parachute while falling through the sky.”
As for the CCWMF, the pandemic made it necessary to reimagine the public music festival as the free virtual Cape Cod Women's Music Festival Saturday Concert Series. A different artist is highlighted every Saturday at 6 p.m. This Saturday, Nov. 21, will feature Catie Flynn, followed by Melic Moon on Nov. 21. Visit capecodwomensmusicfestival.com to enjoy both the current concerts each Saturday evening and the past performances.
What does 2021 hold for CWC and CCWMF? As it turns out, a lot. Swain and company are working on a plan to release the framework of CWC as open source (free) information so that it can be replicated in other communities. They are also having meaningful discussions about specific challenges the pandemic has brought to CWC clients in addition to their cancer treatment. And a new podcast is in the works for spring called “Stories of Hope,” hosted by CWC Caregiver Support and Outreach Coordinator Louisa Stringer.
CCWMF in 2021 will be a safe, in-person drive-in concert, probably in June. Dancing with the Docs All Stars will be held online on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m., featuring an online auction and celebrity appearances. Everyone can text to vote from home for their favorite Doc to win the DWTD year five All-Star trophy.
“We are really hoping people tune into DWTD,” Swain said. “Nonprofits are being dealt a blow and CWC needs support to be able to continue this important work into 2021 and beyond.”
Swain's message for anyone who may be thinking of following through on a big idea of their own, like she did with the CCWMF and CWC, is simple, powerful and fivefold.
“First, with patience and perseverance, absolutely anyone can make a difference,” Swain said. “Second, connect with people outside your bubble. Living in your own echo chamber will not get you past your own echo chamber. Third, be authentic. Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Fourth, stay laser focused on your mission. Trying to do too many things at once will just dilute your efforts. Fifth and finally, acknowledge, support, and value others.”
Looking back on the beginnings of CWC and CCWMF, Swain said she had no idea what she was getting herself into.
“If you’ve ever read that children's book 'What Do You Do with an Idea?', it felt exactly like that,” Swain said. “I am amazed and grateful to be on this journey with so many wonderful people.”
For information on how to sign up/donate/volunteer for CWC, visit capewellness.org.