Survivors by the Sea Recognized by MGH

By Sue Ellen Woodcock

When Survivors by the Sea started up 10 years ago it adopted a philosophy that many non-profits could benefit from — pay it forward. It also developed a model for supporting people with cancer without being a support group.

Survivors by the Sea is one of 100 groups and individuals being recognized by the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center on May 24.

“There are survivors, caregivers and warriors,” said Linda Calla, 61, (also known as the “other” Linda Calla in Winthrop, the one who is not a town councilor.) “You get to talk to someone who lives it, gets it. We don’t sit around and talk about cancer.”

Calla is a breast and lymph node cancer survivor, and said the group started back in 2006 when 11 women gathered at Debbie McDuffy’s house and ended up laughing all night. Shelly Connelly started the group which also included pot luck dinners at various homes. In 2007 there were 40 members and today there are 170 members from eight states. Women are not the only members. There are male members who battled prostrate and throat cancer.

“The word spread and now we even have a closed Facebook page,” Calla said.

The group donate customized Survivor Bags to recently diagnosed cancer patients, which include a blanket, neck warmer, water bottle, relaxation CD, tissues, lip balm. Hand sanitizer and a special “Dammit Doll” to help release emotion.

“Winthrop is all about taking care of its own,” said Karen Leslie, a breast cancer survivor, who helps with the organizational needs of the group. Funds for the group are never solicited, but donated. On May 22 RPM Fitness will hold a run and the proceeds will go to Survivors by the Sea. In the past the Petrilli family has also donated.

In a time of need members of Survivors by the Sea have purchased a recliner, helped with household chores and helped supplement income for people who are missing work.

“We’re just a little mom and pop group from Winthrop,” Calla said. “If someone is having a bad day we get together.”

Visit the group’s website at

Members of Winthrop’s Survivors by the Sea go for a ride on the Boston Swan Boats.

Members of Winthrop’s Survivors by the Sea go for a ride on the Boston Swan Boats.

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