• Giving thanks

  • Diagnosed with a brain tumor in her late 20s, Lola Vanschoelandt didn’t think she was going to live to see her 50th birthday.

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  • Diagnosed with a brain tumor in her late 20s, Lola Vanschoelandt didn’t think she was going to live to see her 50th birthday.
    Now, the 63-year-old Vanschoelandt says she most thankful that her health has remained steady during the past year.
    “And, I’ve met some new friends,” the Independence resident said Wednesday morning. Although the annual Thanksgiving dinner at Palmer Center wasn’t scheduled to start until 11:30 a.m., most of the 200 attendees arrived more than an hour early and chatted with their friends as they waited for the serving of the meal.
    While Vanschoelandt is paralyzed from the waist down and must rely on a wheelchair, she participates in three exercise classes at Palmer Center, in addition to completing 50 laps around the senior center’s gymnasium, five times a week.
    She pats her right arm in pride – Vanschoelandt also is thankful for progress she’s made physically.
    “I’ve gotten stronger,” she said. “I’ve gotten more dense muscle from the exercise. There is encouragement. Being able to exercise in a group motivates me.”
    Madge Martin is counted among Vanschoelandt’s friends at the center. At 89, Martin is “like Mom” to Vanschoelandt, she said.
    Martin said she is thankful that all five of her children are still living, including her 71-year-old daughter Barbara who lives with her and does all of the driving. One of Martin’s sons recently had surgery to remove brain cancer, “and he’s doing wonderful,” she said.
    “He was just examined, and they said he had done better than anybody they’d ever had,” Martin said. “I have a lot to be thankful for.”
    Similarly, Nancy Yeager, a longtime Palmer Center attendee, said she is thankful for her health and for her friends. Yeager has diabetes and recently had a pacemaker implant. On Monday through Friday, Yeager, 75, takes the bus to the center and eats lunch.
    “My health, I’ve got a place to stay, the weather – I’m just all-around thankful for everything,” Yeager said. “You meet a lot of friends here – friends that die, friends that live. You get to know people, people who are depressed and need help, somebody needs somebody to talk to. You just take and put your arm around them and help them – that’s what I do.”
    The attendance at special Palmer Center lunches for Thanksgiving and Christmas are typically double the normal count for Monday through Friday lunches. Peggy Sowders, senior adult programs specialist for the Palmer Center, said it’s quite possible that Wednesday’s Thanksgiving lunch is the only holiday celebration for some of the seniors, particularly if they live alone or don’t have family members close by.
    “They make me realize and appreciate to be thankful for friendships because they run so deeply here,” Sowders said. “That, in and of itself, I think, keeps people from being depressed during the holidays or getting sick.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It is a nice kickoff to my own Thanksgiving that I gave a little pleasure to someone else’s Thanksgiving before I focus on my own. It’s nice to see them have a good time and enjoy each others’ company.”

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