Marysusan Vinskey was barely 30 when she was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in October 2015. Her youngest son was 3 years old.
“When you are diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, you’re always in the fight,” says the Hamilton mother of three. “You go from one battle to the next.”
Last Thanksgiving, Vinskey and her husband, John, and their children enjoyed a welcome respite from that fight with a weeklong vacation in North Captiva Island, Florida. They joined six other families as part of the Pink Ribbon Girls’ inaugural “Four by the Shore” program, which offers an all-expenses-paid getaway to stage 4 cancer patients and their families.
“If you didn’t know you were in Florida, you would think you were in the Caribbean,” Vinskey says. “We all left with incredible memories, and we formed incredible bonds.”
Vinskey was already a client of Pink Ribbon Girls, a Tipp City-based nonprofit that provides free housekeeping, transportation and peer support for breast and gynecological cancer patients. The meals were a godsend, she says: “A cancer diagnosis has a huge effect on your family life. On top of our kids’ crazy schedules, my husband works nights as a Fairfield police officer. John could just heat up a meal at work, and the kids loved them too.”
In 2018 alone, Pink Ribbon Girls provided more than 86,000 meals, 2,000 house cleanings and 4,800 rides to treatment for clients in Ohio, Kentucky, St. Louis and San Francisco.
Volunteer and donor Tony Scott, president of Scott Investments, wanted to create a charitable arm of Pink Ribbon Girls that would strictly serve stage 4 breast cancer and gynecological cancer patients. He developed the concept for Four by the Shore with Heather Salazar, president and CEO of Pink Ribbon Girls. Scott owns a home on North Captiva Island. Coincidentally, it’s the same island where Salazar and her family celebrated the first anniversary of her cancer’s remission.
“Pink Ribbon Girls is near and dear to our hearts because breast cancer has affected some of our family members,” Scott says.
FOUR BY THE SHORE
Families face mounting medical costs during cancer treatment, making it difficult for many to afford vacations. Four by the Shore pays all the expenses and takes care of all the logistics, from stocking the refrigerators in the family’s vacation homes to arranging the ferry to the island, which doesn’t allow cars.
With Four by the Shore, Scott and Salazar envisioned an experience that would be far more than a vacation. They wanted to create a trip that would exemplify the peer support component of the Pink Ribbon Girls’ mission. “We didn’t want simply to say, ‘Here’s some money; go on a trip,’” Scott says. “We wanted to take a bunch of people on a trip and develop friendships. We wanted the Pink Ribbon Girls to grow as a family.”
“The families come together with the other stage 4 patients and their families and form friendships and a very special bond,” says Ashley Robison, a marketing associate for Pink Ribbon Girls.
Vinskey applied for the trip in the spring of 2018 during a particularly challenging time. After her initial diagnosis, she endured 16 surgeries and six rounds of chemotherapy, only to be diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer in her liver.
During the family’s application video for the trip, Vinskey said, “Unfortunately I was recently diagnosed with metastasis in my liver, and I have to have surgery in a couple of weeks. The chance to go to Florida in November would mean so much to me and my family.”
In the video, daughter Maggie, then 11, said, “I really want to go swimming in the ocean.” Sons Jack, 7, and Sam, 6, said they would love to go fishing with their dad and take pictures with their underwater camera.
Surgery was required to remove part of Vinskey’s liver in June 2018. She endured multiple complications and infections that summer. “That trip was the light at the end of a very dark tunnel,” she says. “The goal the whole summer was to make myself well enough to make it to that trip in November.”
All those dreams — and more — came true last Thanksgiving week. “It was a chance to take a break from overwhelming things that come with cancer,” Vinskey says. “We have had to cancel a lot of vacations. This was a chance to totally get away and make memories and spend time with our kids for a week.”
All families are provided with their own homes on the lush tropical island, but group dinners and activities – from poolside luaus to dance parties – created a sense of community. Scott purchased the lot next to his home and built picnic tables on the property, where the families gathered every night for a meal.
Scott and his wife, Kat, and their children, Addy and Landon, joined the families on last year’s trip and are coming along again this year. This year they will be joined by the family of Nick Moeller, his business partner in Moeller Brew Barn. The Troy brewery has created a “Pink Ribbon Girls Pink Shandy,” whose proceeds are donated to the charity.
“We want our kids to understand what it is to give back, and we want to give them a sense of perspective,” he says. “My daughter didn’t understand until we went on this trip that some of these women might not make it. Most kids are worried about what iPhone they are going to get, and these kids are worried about their mom living for the next month.”
The camaraderie among the families developed swiftly and spontaneously, Scott says. “They are all struggling through the same thing, and they don’t always have the opportunity to be around people who know what they’re going through.”
Concurs Vinskey, “It gives the kids a sense of comfort to be around other kids they can talk to about the things they are feeling. These kids have gone through a traumatic experience, yet they are so resilient and so open and honest and always ready to encounter new situations.”
Vinskey found the spirit of the other women contagious — and inspiring. “Toward the end of party all of the recipients and families jumped into the pool, including a woman with an amputated leg and another woman who was in a wheelchair,” she says. “It was an incredible moment seeing the resiliency of the other women. I thought to myself, ‘If they can jump into the pool, why can’t I?’”
Even in the midst of Marysusan’s ongoing cancer treatment, the Vinskeys are eager to give back. The couple, who grew up in Beavercreek, have joined the board of Pink Ribbon Girls and will accompany this year’s recipients on the trip to North Captiva Island.
Two of the seven participants in last year’s trip have since died. It’s a reminder of the tragic toll of stage 4 cancer, but also of the enduring ties among the Four by the Shore families. “After one of the moms died, my daughter was sending text messages to her daughter,” Vinskey says. “These kids just embraced each other.”
Her cancer diagnosis has brought blessings as well as burdens, Vinskey says: “It has brought my own family closer. The people around us have built us up and have given my husband and myself the strength to persevere. The people you meet and the bonds you forge are so incredible. The Four by the Shore trip this year is an opportunity to help other people in my situation and to provide hope for them, as hope was given to me.”
To learn more about the Four by the Shore program, visit www.fourbyshore.com. To learn more about Pink Ribbon Girls, visit www.pinkribbongirls.org.