Before Friends Together…there was Betsy Gonyea

Friends Together will honor Betsy Gonyea as Friend of the Year at a community celebration this Friday at the Fletcher Street Brewing Company and Alpena riverfront. The event begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the public.

“One of the first people I met as I started Friends Together was Betsy Gonyea,” said Judy Burns. “At the time our Cancer Center was still only a plan, but Betsy was the oncology nurse who worked with Dr. Hughes on his weekly trip from Saginaw. Betsy was ‘it. She was the face of cancer care at Alpena General Hospital.”

A few years later, Gonyea was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is now a 13-year “fighter” and remains active in supporting others dealing with the disease. Through her own experience of chemo and radiation, Gonyea continued to love and care for her friends and neighbors at the Alpena Cancer Center and in the community. She now “walked the walk” with each of them.

“It occurs to me that Betsy is truly the pioneer of cancer care in Alpena,” said Burns. “She is truly the first ‘friends together.’ She provided the professional medical attention each patient needed, but more than that, she offered the shoulder to cry on and was the voice at the other end of the phone helping patients and families cope with a cancer diagnosis.”

Gonyea is an active member of the board of directors of Friends Together. She was first appointed to the board in 2002. In addition to the Friend of the Year honor, Gonyea has also been selected to chair the 2014 Zonta Walks for Women this October.

“I saw first hand how important it is for cancer patients and families to have both good medical care and strong family and community support,” Gonyea said. “I have personally been touched by cancer and also have many close relatives touched by this disease. I know how very important it is to have support during and after treatments.”

“Betsy’s zest for life and her dry wit engages so many of us,” said Burns. “Her husband, Steve, and her children continue to navigate this journey with her. While this cancer is a challenge, we are all strengthened by her strength and empowered by her determination to live life to the fullest.”

“Friends Together is proud to recognize her as our first Friend of the Year,” added Burns.

The community celebration honoring Gonyea and all those in the area dealing with cancer runs from 6-11 p.m. on. The event features food vendors, kid’s workshops by Home Depot, live music, a graffiti wall and more.

Admission is free for all ages. Bring your own lawn chair for outdoor seating under the tent. Call Friends Together at 356-3231 for more information.