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  • Tara Crutchfield

Your Polk County HUB

According to the CDC, in the United States, in 2020, 1,603,844 new cancer cases were reported, and 602,347 people died of cancer. For every 100,000 people, 403 new cancer cases were reported, and 144 people died of cancer. In Florida, 115,000 were diagnosed, and 132,614 have died. In Polk County, 4,489 people have been diagnosed in one year.


The far-reaching hand of this terrible disease has unfortunately gripped us all either directly or through friends and family. 


Winter Haven couple and cancer survivors Chris and Hap Hazelwood decided to do something to provide resources and support to those going through this harrowing experience. Hap was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996. Chris was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer in 2008. She went through chemotherapy and radiation and went into remission. “Thirteen years later, it came back,” she said. Chris underwent a mastectomy and is currently fighting Stage 4 cancer.


In 2010, the Hazelwoods converted their former flower shop building into Your Polk County HUB, a co-working office space for non-profit organizations. Hap called it an incubator for not-for-profits predating similar spaces like the Lodge and Catapult. 


After selling the building, the mission of the HUB shifted to helping people going through cancer. 

“No one should ever be going through this alone,” Chris said. Her first time going through treatment, she attended support groups at Winter Haven Hospital. “It was good for the moment,” she said. “It was good. I needed that.” Though she appreciated these groups, she thought she could do something more.


The mission of Your Polk County HUB is to enhance the quality of cancer survivors’ lives by providing support, resources, and healing that is whole-person-centered and provides for the mind, body, and soul. This environment will be away from the hospital and treatment centers, providing a comforting place of wellness. 


“The other reason it’s grown into this is Chris knows so many people in the community from all her years of volunteering,” Hap said. There isn’t a week that goes by that Chris doesn’t get a call from someone in her network who either has cancer or has a friend or family member going through it. 


According to the HUB, “Coping with cancer affects your mind, body, emotions, and spirit. These stressors cause headaches, body aches, confusion, frustration, guilt, and depression and [impacts] your relationships. When you receive support for these signs and symptoms, it helps your overall mental health and relationships. These interventions can be used alongside medical treatment and increase their wellness.” 


The HUB hosts monthly get-togethers called ROSE (Ribbons of Strength and Empowerment) Gatherings at the Lodge in Winter Haven. “It’s nothing clinical. It’s mainly for them to talk to other people, and we do fun things,” Chris said. Here, folks can join other cancer survivors in a welcoming, supportive space run by survivors with classes for relaxation, sharing, art activities, and beyond. The next ROSE Gathering will be December 12, 2023, from 6-7 pm. Hap said, “It helps people realize other people are going through the same thing and that there is support out there.”


“The groups have gone very well,” Chris said. “They’re very excited about it. […] We’re progressing. We’re moving forward, and we need more people to come.”


In addition to their monthly ROSE Gatherings, Your Polk County HUB offers cancer patients a HUG in a Box. “With my A-Team, we make a bunch of them for free and give them out to chemo patients that need them,” Chris said. “People don’t know what to get them. I got that question a lot.”


These boxes contain helpful items for those undergoing treatment, including knitted caps, socks, lavender essential oil for calming, coloring materials, sea bands for nausea, a water bottle, ginger tea, a notebook, and a thermometer. The HUB has given them out at hospitals including BayCare, Bond Clinic, Moffitt, and Central Florida Healthcare. 


You can help support Your Polk County HUB’s mission to provide aid to cancer survivors by donating money or HUG in a Box supplies and by simply getting the word out. If you or someone you know would like a HUG in a Box, contact Chris Hazelwood at yourpolkcountyhub.net.


Chris also chairs the board of Relay For Life of Polk County. Started by the American Cancer Society, Relay For Life of Polk County will be on March 15, 2024, at South Central Park in Winter Haven. According to the ACS, “Relay For Life is more than a walk – it’s a chance to come together in your local community to celebrate cancer survivors, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against every cancer as we come together for every life.”  


At the relay, teams gather to celebrate survivors and caregivers with a walk. They’ll create a human ribbon in the Andy Thornal lot this year. Hap said, “It’s an opportunity for each not-for-profit to raise money and, just like the original HUB concept, have the comradery of coming together for an event, help support Relay, which is a great thing, but also meet a lot of other non-profits.” 


The Hazelwoods, holding hands, had tearful words of encouragement for those going through cancer. Chris said, “You’re not alone. Reach out, hang in there. Things are getting better. There are new drugs all the time.” Hap added, “One thing that has been so important for both of us is our faith. We know that God has a plan for us, and we know we’ve been given this challenge for a reason. So, we embrace and try to share it and help other people because it’s a tough thing to go through.”


Photography by Amy Sexson

 

Your Polk County HUB 

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