FORT PLAIN — Cancer survivor Donna Williams Short held a combined 75th birthday party and benefit for Cancer Warriors, Inc., a not-for-profit organization she started with the goal of brightening the lives of local people battling the disease, on Saturday.
Williams Short has held the fundraising birthday bash at her country home for the past five years, aside from last year, when she was in the midst of a cancer battle — the brave survivor having repeatedly battled and conquered the disease over the past 22 years.
Money raised during bake sales and past benefits — including one at the Canajoharie-Fort Plain Elks Lodge wherein Williams Short brought in funds to give locals with cancer $100 a piece — is put toward the creation of personalized Sunshine Baskets, each containing a plethora of items aimed at brightening the day of recipients.
The idea for Cancer Warriors was created five years ago when Williams Short was having a hard moment. “I was having chemo one day and I was down. I was depressed,” she said, explaining, “The nurse came over to me with this big basket and she said ‘this is for you.’ ”
The basket, full of a variety of items, “just cheered me up and took me right out of my depression,” she said. “It was like a mini-Christmas. It had so many wonderful things.”
Each time she used an item from the basket, it brightened her day and made her think of the individuals that lifted her spirits, Williams Short said, deciding that she wanted to bring such light to the lives of others.
In Cancer Warriors’ first year, Williams Short said it was hard to recruit helpers to raise funds and create baskets. “So, I used my own money, did it, and it was successful,” she said. Since, Williams Short has helped to brighten the lives of about 100 local cancer patients.
While every so often Williams Short will donate to somebody from outside the area, having been moved by their story, the baskets are primarily distributed locally. “The money comes from here, so it needs to stay here,” she said.
The requests for Sunshine Baskets never stop pouring in, with Williams Short pointing out that across the past five years, there hasn’t even been one month where she didn’t hear about a local individual in need. Recently, while delivering four Sunshine Baskets, Williams Short received seven new requests.
While Williams Short said that she can’t always keep up with requests, commenting, “There’s months where I don’t have any money, and that’s heartbreaking,” she knows that the community she continually supports will also always be there for her.
“These people come together,” she said of those who’ve assisted in any capacity, including with Saturday’s benefit — for which Williams Short and Connie Bradford spent days soliciting raffle donations from generous Canajoharie and Fort Plain businesses — adding of supporters, “It’s just unbelievable, the hard work they put in.”
“I’ve had such an outpouring of support,” said Williams Short, adding, “I’ve been lucky to have cancer. I was blessed.”
Noting that keeping a positive attitude during hard times is an important tool in the fight against cancer, Williams Short explained, “There are so many good, loving people here, and that’s why I’m blessed. I get to see them all.”
“I think God put me here for this reason,” Williams Short concluded of her continued mission to improve local lives, explaining that she hopes to soon start a support group for area individuals battling the disease.
Along with Cancer Warrior raffles, Williams Short’s 75th birthday featured an opportunity to support Alyssa Strong, benefiting Alyssa Parrino — one of the first people Williams Short assisted via her organization — a Fort Plain woman who’s been bravely battling cancer for years.
Also, a table was set up with free wigs and hats Saturday, along with a candle burning in memory and honor of those whose lives have been lost to cancer.
Those wishing to inform Williams Short about individuals in need of a Sunshine Basket, or looking to donate, can contact her via the Cancer Warriors Facebook page, or through her personal account.