UNION SQUARE — Nearly every Sunday for the past four years, Ellyn has been a regular at the nonprofit You Can Thrive!, an organization dedicated to providing palliative care and alternative therapies to those recovering from or struggling with breast cancer.
At first, she was a volunteer who had beaten back cancer once before.
But after her cancer returned, Ellyn became a client, recovering from a double mastectomy she had just two months ago.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life,” said the 42-year-old, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her privacy. “When you’re in it, and actually in it for survival, it will actually gut and excavate every resource of strength you have.”
But over the course of her Sundays filled with treatments at You Can Thrive!, including acupuncture, reflexology and Reiki — all available for free or for a donation of any amount — she emerged feeling grateful, less bogged down by pain and better overall.
“I think that, without a place like this, a lot of women would be in danger of very serious depression,” Ellyn explained. “It’s been one of the deepest sources of strength in getting through this.”
Now, after five years of serving clients like Ellyn, You Can Thrive! is facing an uncertain future.
The organization operates out of donated space in Union Square as part of a temporary arrangement with Shift Physical Therapy. That deal is set to expire Feb. 1.
With the deadline looming, You Can Thrive! is on the hunt for permanent donated space. And in case a generous donor doesn’t appear before the clock runs out, the organization has launched a campaign to raise $150,000 before the beginning of February — a sum the nonprofit believes could pay for a year’s worth of rent.
“It’s a huge operation, and we need our own home,” said the organization’s founder, Luana DeAngelis.
“This is a true community for people with cancer,” DeAngelis added. “I would have done anything to have [had] that.”
DeAngelis founded the You Can Thrive! Foundation in 2005, a year after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35.
Two years later, in 2007, DeAngelis, who describes herself as a fourth-generation natural healer, started offering treatments to breast cancer patients out of borrowed space at East 19th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.
The organization has moved twice since then, but the focus both then and now has been on helping clients manage their care and providing them with services that are typically not covered by insurance, regardless of their ability to pay.
The menu of services at You Can Thrive! includes acupuncture, Reiki, massage, nutritional counseling, reflexology, exercise and meditation, among others.
All are provided by experts in their respective fields, and every Sunday between 25 and 30 clients come to the center’s temporary home on University Place near West 12th Street for up to four treatments a day.
The staff of volunteers speak in whispers to keep the mood calm and serene, and DeAngelis's dog, Fonzie, walks around to different patients and offers his tiny, white, four-legged frame for comfort and support.
“We’re ameliorating side effects and helping them to have better outcomes,” DeAngelis said. “Everyone has said for 25, 30 years that integrated medicine needs to be furthered. This paradigm gives [breast cancer patients] access.”
But it costs a lot of money to provide that access free of charge. DeAngelis said she is the organization’s only full-time paid employee. The program director gets paid for about eight hours of work per week but probably logs closer to 35, she added.
Ideally, the foundation requires an annual budget of roughly $1.2 million, but DeAngelis said it has been subsisting off roughly $110,000 a year. And most of that funding has come directly from clients eager to give back to the organization that has given them so much.
“It drives me crazy to ask for something in return,” DeAngelis said.
On a recent Sunday, after treatments had wrapped up for the day, DeAngelis, her staff and several clients called their friends and contacts to start collecting donations.
Those calls will continue, she added, until You Can Thrive! finds a permanent home.
“Even with people who don’t have favorable outcomes, you can still help them so much,” DeAngelis said. “It’s not the easiest job in the world, but it’s so rewarding.”