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LynnMarie Boltze, right, poses with her friend Darcelle O’Connor at the Boobalishes 2012 Fashion Show in Tampa.
If she hears the word cancer or chemotherapy, LynnMarie Boltze, 51, of Largo will stop in her tracks and give a 30-second elevator speech about Faces of Courage, the nonprofit organization where she volunteers.
It’s just in her blood. Boltze is and always has been a person with a passion for caring for others.
She lights up when she talks about what she does as a volunteer. Her first volunteer job was in a convalescent facility when she was 10 years old. She then went on to be a candy striper and in her adult life, volunteered with the American Cancer Society and Faces of Courage.
It’s just something Boltze loves to do.
“If I could just volunteer full-time, I would do that, but I have to pay the bills,” said Boltze who also has a full-time job.
Boltze is no stranger to cancer. In 1992, she lost her grandmother to breast cancer. Two years later, breast cancer took her mother, who was only 64 years old. Boltze was just 31 at the time.
“It’s my passion because it has not only touched my life, but it’s sadly touching friends’ lives,” she said.
Boltze is a Florida native, born and raised. She said she was the first one in her circle of friends to have someone close have cancer and die from it. After her mom died, it seemed like others would lean on her for support and information, she said.
“Friends wanted to know how my family dealt with my mom’s cancer, how it affected us and how long a person lived once told they had cancer,” she explained.
Boltze said she was honest with her friends. Twenty years ago, you didn’t have support groups like you do now, and the information about cancer wasn’t as easily accessible.
When her mom was first diagnosed with cancer she relied on the American Cancer Society for help. As the cancer progressed her family had LifePath Hospice at their side.
“In my mom’s case, the doctor gave my mom three months, but we were blessed to get six months,” said Boltze.
Even though her mom died from cancer rather quickly, she said she reminded her friends that not everyone with cancer has a death sentence.
And for the past 14 years, Boltze continues to remind people that cancer can be beat, through her work with Faces of Courage. The Tampa Bay nonprofit organization, founded by a breast cancer survivor, Peggie Sherry, provides free camps and events for women and children with cancer or blood illnesses.
“I love what I do. Now, I try and become more like a resource for people,” Boltze said.
One of the big events Faces of Courage offers is a three-day camp for women, held this year on Sept. 6-8 in Brandon. About 115 women with all different cancers, including women in remission, attended the camp.
“At camp, we try to hold onto: there is life after cancer and it is very beatable,” Boltze said.
One camp attendee is Darcelle O’Connor, 55, a friend of Boltze and a survivor of two different types of breast cancer. Boltze met O’Connor when she had just finished chemotherapy. She had a mastectomy and started reconstruction on her right breast.
O’Connor told her the doctor wasn’t going to reconstruct the left breast for three to five years because she had an 80 percent chance of the cancer coming back. Boltze couldn’t believe she wasn’t able to have the other breast reconstructed and convinced O’Connor to see another doctor.
Last year, O’Connor had her breast reconstructed and according to Boltze is so happy. O’Connor calls Boltze her “angel sent from God.”
Boltze knows what it is like, to a degree, to lose a breast. At age 17, doctors found masses on her breast. She had the right one removed. It didn’t end up being cancer, but it was such a traumatic thing to go through at a young age, she said.
For years, Boltze had to have mammograms done every six months. She said even though she lost a breast, she never had to go through hearing: “You have cancer.”
Over the years, Boltze has become very close to so many people at the Faces of Courage camp. One in particular is a 37-year-old friend she has known for six years, a friend who calls her “big sis.” This friend wasn’t able to attend the camp this year because she was in the hospital battling her third bout with cancer.
Boltze has to deal with death more than most people. As a volunteer, she has seen many success stories over the years of cancer survivors, but sadly has seen people pass away. She said death is a part of life, and she’s learned how to deal with it.
“I pray, hold them, talk to God and thank God for letting me be in the transition as they go back to be with their Maker,” she said.
She considers being present for someone’s death a privilege and honor.
The friendships she has made and helping people as they battle serious illnesses is something Boltze said she wouldn’t ever give up. She volunteers because it helps her put life in perspective.
“It makes me realize when I have a bad day, I don’t have a bad day; I have a great day. I feed off of them, and they are my reward,” Boltze said.
A reward that is a two-way street because of a passion that involves caring for others, she added.