The Victory Center celebrates 25 years … looking back & looking ahead To a new forever home filled with care, support and encouragement

–by Mary Helen Darah

Survivor heals through giving
Kris LaHote was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2009. “A friend of mine recommended that I go and check out the programs at The Victory Center (TVC). “I primarily utilized the free reflexology, massage, and facials at TVC,” said LaHote. “At the time the wig bank was not an option. TVC knew when I was going through treatment and that I had seven different wigs. I spent my money on fake hair since I didn’t have to go to the salon. It was my way of coping. Losing my hair was harder than losing my breast. It was an outward sign that I was a cancer patient. Since they were aware of my knowledge and use of wigs, TVC reached out to me. They wanted to have me volunteer in the new wig bank space.” Three days a month the TVC Wig Bank is open for any cancer survivor. The majority of wigs are gently used or brand new. The wig bank used to be housed in the TVC Central Ave. location. Now it is strictly in TVC’s Perrysburg location. Due to Covid, walk-in appointments are not available and must be scheduled.

LaHote says that fitting a wig on a survivor can be an emotional experience. “I always joke that I have to wear waterproof mascara,” said LaHote. “We initially talk with clients about what they are looking for as far as a cut and color. Sometimes they bring a picture of what their hair used to look like. Sometimes they get adventurous and want a new look. Many times they are not ready to accept that this is happening to them. These are the most difficult appointments. They turn into therapy sessions rather than wig fittings. It is so important for them to talk with someone who has been there and let them know you can come out on the other side of this. It is always validating to have someone who is extremely upset about their hair loss and when we finish our session, they walk out with a smile. I wish I had the same resource when I was going through it.”
The survivor feels grateful for having the opportunity to empower people during one of the most difficult periods of their life. “We had a woman who went somewhere for a wig and had a terrible experience, she said. “She came to us and we were able to provide not just one option for her but four different ones. She was so happy. You often wonder when you are going through the journey yourself, ‘why me.’ I think being able to give back is my ‘why.’ My experience as a client, found that TVC was the one place I could go and just be a cancer patient. I didn’t want to be branded in my daily life so I would do everything I could to hide the fact that I was going through a cancer journey. At TVC, I could just BE. My doctors healed my cancer. TVC healed my soul.”

Participant gives back to TVC
Survivor Lori Knous received her cancer diagnosis in 2007. She initially found herself walking through the doors of The Victory Center (TVC) to attend one of the many support groups the organization offers. “Being part of a group of people who could understand what I was going through was the first thing that drew me here,” recalled Knous. “I then started coming here for art therapy classes before getting on with life. Five years later, I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer in 2012. Before I even went home from the hospital, I stopped here and once again signed up for programs.”
Knous receives treatment every three weeks and has found The Victory Center has supported her throughout her journey. “I desperately wanted to give back to the organization,” she said. “I am stage 4 metastatic but I am stable and healthy enough to give back. I couldn’t financially support TVC so I helped by volunteering at events such as Celebrity Wait Night. I then began helping out at the office on Wednesday mornings at the desk. Longtime receptionist Lynn Chandler retired, and I ended up falling into her daily position.”

Knous finds it difficult to put her gratitude for TVC into words. “Honestly, The Victory Center has been a lifeline,” she stated. “Before my diagnosis, I knew nothing about the organization. You find yourself thrust into a world you know nothing about. You are on a roller coaster when you are first diagnosed and don’t want to put another appointment in your life. I wish people could take that step and come here and know that TVC is here for them no matter where they are in their journey. It is a place to heal their mental state while on that roller coaster. Nobody takes time for themselves anymore. We need to stop and focus on ourselves and realize it’s ok to do that. Here people understand what you’re going through. We also have a caregiver support group. Caregivers are dealing with their own turmoil and have things they want to talk about without putting a burden on us survivors. TVC is for everyone that has a seat on the cancer coaster ride.”
The survivor and now TVC receptionist is excited to be involved in a metastatic support group. “I am going to be the co-facilitator of this group that meets the first Wednesday of every month,” said Knous. “In addition, I will continue participating in Art Therapy Class which is one of my favorite and go-to programs here. You would be surprised by the creativity that begins to flow when you start a project. The creations people come up with are inspiring. We use so many different modalities. We just had the yearly TVC art show. Having the community share in our creations was wonderful.”
Knous is also thrilled to find more men are coming to use the many services at TVC. “Men are taking the time to come in during their journey. They are starting to take advantage of some of the one-on-one services we offer such as facials and massages. We also have general exercise classes that both men and women enjoy. When we move into our new building, and Covid restrictions lift, we will be able to accommodate more people,” she said.
There is an undercurrent about the new building and Knous is feeling the excitement as well. “Right now we are in the midst of a campaign for the new building. Growing TVC is incredible. Our goal is that more people know about us and our services and feel comfortable taking part in their own well-being during their fight. I am so happy with the new building and hope TVC becomes a bigger part of the community and people know that we are always here for them.”

The Victory Center acquires new building
The Victory Center has exciting news to share. After opening its doors 25 years ago, spending several years in a renovated gas station, and bursting at the seams in a leased office space, TVC has finally found its forever home. Located two buildings behind the Central Avenue location, on North Republic Blvd., TVC will soon be able to stretch its wings in more than 8,000 square feet, and provide even more services to a larger number of cancer patients, survivors and families in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
TVC donors, Russ and Ruth Wood, along with their children Nate and Ellen, have committed $25,000 as part of TVC’s Silver to Gold Campaign to help the organization celebrate this building milestone and 25 years of support that The Victory Center has provided to cancer patients. TVC hopes that others will contribute to the project. “Every dollar raised will go toward services and support for your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues who may be fighting the battle of their lives,” stated TVC Executive Director Dianne Barndt. If you or your family have found peace or comfort at The Victory Center during your cancer journey, contributing to TVC will help ensure that no one walks through their cancer journey alone.”
The Perrysburg location, located on the second floor of the Mercy Health Hospital, will remain open for the convenience of people living in Wood County or Perrysburg. The salon-styled Wig Bank and free services such as massage, facials and reflexology along with classes, are offered at the location.

L-R: Russ, Ellen, Nate and Ruth Wood are excited to donate to the new forever home of The Victory Center.

Dianne Barndt leads TVC into the next 25 years
Diane Barndt has been the executive director of The Victory Center TVC for the past 10-1/2 years. “We are so proud of our team,” she stated. “We have amazing individuals on our team and I am so proud of our expanded programs and offerings. This is a direct result of their hard work. I’m also very grateful to our board of directors. Without their leadership and guidance and belief in me, TVC would not have been able to have grown and thrived as we have. We have grown 300 percent over the past ten years in the use of our services since I came on board. I am also pleased with our financial situation. When I first started, I was patch working things together. Now our annual fundraising and events have evolved and gotten stronger which has enabled us to buy our first building.”

Recently TVC announced that they would soon be moving into a new facility. “We have been looking for a new home for years,” said Barndt. “I am thrilled to find the perfect home for TVC. The fact that it is only two doors down from our current location is icing on the cake. Having the facility will enable us to have concurrent programming, less noise disruptions and we will no longer have to continually take tables up and down depending on an event. The new facility will also allow for a greatly wanted serenity garden. We are so excited to offer a beautiful space for moments of peace for those we serve. My hope is that we would be able to pay off this building in five or 10 years. That would be life-changing for the organization. Then, every single dollar can be funneled into services and programs for those we serve and meet every need of the cancer community.”
Barndt often feels that TVC is a well-kept secret. “We are always trying to combat that,” she said. “I think TVC is a critical part of anyone’s cancer journey. We provide the holistic part of the care, whether is offering a yoga class, counseling, support group, or a new wig to our clients. TVC also offers support groups and counseling for family members and caregivers.”
She continued, “We provide the missing pieces that make the journey easier. The really great thing about TVC is that we provide free services for anyone with a cancer diagnosis including men, women and children with any type of cancer. It also doesn’t matter where you live. You can drive to one of our two locations to receive free services. We have hands-on services while clients are going through treatment but they can participate in group activities the rest of their lives. The new survivor and the one who has been a survivor for years can help that newly diagnosed patient.”
Barndt is grateful for her time at TVC. “I have been fundraising for almost 30 years,” she stated. I really didn’t know I wanted to be an executive director until one of my former bosses suggested it. I walked through the TVC doors and I just knew this is where I belonged and where I wanted to be. Seeing the amazing attitudes of our patients has been life-changing. No matter what I am dealing with personally, it puts things in perspective. I’m surrounded by the most amazing people who face cancer with grace and strength. They have helped make me a better person and I am honored to be a part of their healing.”

Over the Edge raises funds for The Victory Center
Over the Edge for Victory is one of the cornerstone fundraisers for The Victory Center. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the unique outdoor event was able to take place with proper safety guidelines in place, and raise over $111,000. Over the Edge for Victory is the only event of its kind in a four-county radius. TVC holds the exclusive rights to have a fundraiser of this nature in the Toledo/Lucas County region. Those who have experienced the exhilaration of rappelling down a building for a great cause found it to be the adventure of a lifetime.
Registration for Over the Edge for Victory opens May 24, 2021. The first 85 rappellers to raise $1,000 apiece will descend 16 stories on the side of the ProMedica Building at 300 Madison Ave. in downtown Toledo. The two-day event takes place Aug. 26 and Aug. 27.

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