'Escape' trip inspires widow to give back

Cary Ashby • Aug 14, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Ann Newman and her family experienced the joy of escaping the cancer her husband was battling.

But the “escape” trip in March 2014 by Life Is Good No Matter What also inspired Newman. The Norwalk woman decided to use massage as a way of paying it forward.

Now, Newman is four weeks from graduating from the massage therapy program at EHOVE Career Center.

“I love massages. I love giving them. I like the idea of making (my clients) feel better,” she said.

Newman and her late husband Bill, who died Jan. 26, 2015, enjoyed a couple’s massage during their Cleveland trip. Their experience also included a weekend at the Ritz in Cleveland, passage to the Diamond Lounge in “the Jack” casino and dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse. The Newmans’ daughter and son-in-law, McKenzie and Mike Wobser and their 9-year-old daughter, Grace Neuburger, went with them. 

Feeling better, relaxing and creating special family memories are integral to Life Is Good. Troy Haslinger founded the charity based on the motto of his late sister, Holly Haslinger Sneider, used throughout her treatment of colon cancer: “Life is good no matter what.” The organization grants “escapes” to eligible adult patients who have advanced cancer and live in northern Ohio. 

“I am planning my 40th escape this year,” said executive director Jacquie Skrzypiec, who enjoys giving families “the experience they deserve.”

Life Is Good averages 12 to 13 escapes each year. (For more information, go to www.lifeisgoodnomatterwhat.org or call Jacquie Skrzypiec at 330-329-2472.)

Skrzypiec doesn’t just enjoy benefiting families stricken with their fight against cancer; she unfortunately also has a first-hand experience. Her mother died 18 months after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It was vicious. It just ate her up,” Skrzypiec said. “That’s my only memory of Mom.”

Thanks to the work of Life Is Good, families such as Newman’s receive memory books of their escape trips. Bill’s oncologist entered the Newmans for an escape. Bill had an unknown primary cancer which spread to his liver and bones.

Newman smiled brightly as she shared how much the experience meant for her late husband, who didn’t have the energy for a long trip. She recalled how Bill enjoyed sharing his memories of their experience with others. 

“He was so excited. It was so exciting for all of us,” she said. “We had great memories.”

At one point, the Newmans and their family had to plan when a limousine would pick them up. Ann Newman laughed as she remembered how they arrived in Cleveland in style, with people initially thinking they were celebrities.

“They took care of everything,” she said, referring to Life Is Good. “Our itinerary was all set up.”

The escape trip gave the Newmans a respite from the daily pressure of fighting cancer.

“After two years of dealing with cancer, we were in cancer mode,” Ann Newman said. “It took over.”

Her granddaughter said her most memorable experience was “having dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe and being on TV.” A reporter from Channel 5 News interviewed Neubrger and her grandfather about the experience. 

“It changed our outlook. It gave Bill something to talk about (later),” Newman said. “It got me through really hard years.”

Once she’s established herself as a massage therapist, she plans to donate her proceeds to Life Is Good. Newman also plans on volunteering for hospice.

“Massage is good for everybody,” she added.

Niki Chaney, EHOVE massage therapy program coordinator and instructor, is inspired by Newman’s story. She said she appreciates how dedicated Newman is to giving back to others through massage. 

“I’ve been teaching for 10 years and never heard such a story,” Chaney said. “I was touched by her story. … That makes me want to do more.” 

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