E.R.I.C. was co-founded in 2012 by two friends, Jim Gerencser and Cassandra Palo, after cancer affected their lives simultaneously when Jim’s son, Eric and Cassandra’s mother, Mary Lea, were both diagnosed with cancer. Eric was first diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was eight years old. He was an athletic child, who loved playing hockey but began struggling with his balance a lot, then experienced headaches and then vomiting followed suit. After endless visits to the doctor and symptoms worsening, the diagnosis was a brain tumor. Surgery removed most of it and after a few weeks, Eric was up and running again.
Two years later though, the tumor grew back, and a second surgery resulted in paralysis on Eric’s left side. With a new doctor, timely medical check-ups, physical therapy and a lot of research learning about cancer, Eric made great progress regaining 90% of his mobility and eventually got into the best shape of his life. Looking back, Eric believed being so physically fit helped him fight his next recurring battle.
In April 2012, at 19 years of age, Eric was diagnosed with stage 2 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) Burkitt’s, a destructive cancer that mainly strikes young people. The chemotherapy treatment was very aggressive and greatly challenged his then weakened immune system. What followed was months of spinal taps, multiple blood transfusions, constant vomiting, loss of appetite and long terrifying weeks of hospital stays. The struggle and emotional toil seemed unending for the entire family after nearly a decade of hardships and temporary triumphs.
Thankfully, Eric’s cancer was caught early enough each time and did not spread further, and by the end of 2012 Eric’s cancer officially went into remission. Today Eric is in his 30s, healthy and active, leading the family business and living his life on his term!
Around the same time, Cassandra’s mother, Mary Lea, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma only a few months prior, had died from pneumonia caused by the cancer. Unfortunately, her cancer was not caught early enough for treatment to be effective and the cancer spread all over, including her lungs.
As so many unfortunately know, cancer is an emotionally, physically and spiritually difficult fight that no one should endure, let alone a child. And the families of cancer patients experience every moment of the disease second hand, feeling helpless, frustrated and scared at their own inability to get rid of the cancer. For Jim and Cassandra, they drew on the support of family and friends, and especially the ultimate frisbee community.
What they soon discovered is that cancer stories stressing the importance of early cancer detection for survival are surprisingly rare. Jim and Cassandra wanted to honor Mary Lea’s and Eric’s journey by offering a platform to give others hope and tools in fighting this disease. Recognizing the value of education and being physically fit to help fight disease, they viewed the sport of Ultimate as a perfect vehicle to share information about cancer prevention, engage in physical activity and teach youth positive communication skills to speak up if something felt wrong.
In the ensuing decade E.R.I.C. went on to educate over 200,000 school aged children across the country using a school based model. We would partner with a PE program at a school, and teach a day of disc skills along our “Speak Up” message of being body aware, and speaking up when something is wrong! We took the message on the road in 2016-17 visiting 22 different cities for a week at a time. Thanks to our talented coaches and presenters we were able to reach thousands of children with a message of hope and empowerment!
As E.R.I.C. turned 10 years old, we asked ourselves, what’s the next step? How can we truly make a difference to prevent cancer death? The answer lay in the incredible network of people from all over the world that we had met through frisbee. We learned that people around the world had very limited access to cancer education and as a result many did not know about the importance of early recognition. So we decided to do something about it!
We now have chapters in Uganda, Colombia, and Venezuela with more to come soon! We focus on teaching basic cancer literacy and self screening techniques, in particular the Breast Self Exam. Our chapters work tirelessly to reach out to their communities with multi-faceted and situationally appropriate methods.
Go to our Partner, Lady Be Well’s website and learn more about self breast examination for early detection of breast cancer.
THE BRACELET: Crafted with care by a team of individuals on the autism spectrum, adds another beautiful element to ERIC’s, in partnership with LadyBWell, ultimate goal of providing low-tech cancer recognition tools. This bracelet is made to assist women in reducing preventable breast cancer deaths. The beads are specifically chosen to show the size of lumps to feel for during a self breast examination.