Triumph from Tribulation
After surviving Stage IV cancer, Judith Opdahl makes it a personal mission to transform suffering patients into a hopeful community.
WRITTEN BY MADISON REYNOLDS | PHOTOGRAPHED BY MONICA OROZCO
Why me? We all ask ourselves this question at some point in our lives when challenged with obstacles. While some might dwell or retreat when faced with the pain of unexpected misfortune, others refocus their energy to overcome it.
Judith Opdahl, executive director of Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach, is a living example of such strength and determination, as she won her battle against Stage IV colorectal cancer in her early 40s. She took a traumatic, life-altering circumstance and turned it into a life of service, support and sincerity—using her own experience to be an example of hope for the participants at CSCRB.
She reflects, “It more or less changed my life. I wanted to do something meaningful. So I was chosen.”
After attending CSCRB’s emotional support group sessions in 1990 while undergoing treatment at UCLA, Judith began volunteering at the center, which eventually led to her current role as executive director in 1994. She explains that when the position became available, she “literally woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it” and decided to apply because of how it positively impacted her own journey.
Almost 24 years later, Judith still has a passion for helping others who face similar challenges. With a background in business from her college years and previous experience navigating the real estate world with her husband, she often runs the “behind-the-scenes” operations of the nonprofit organization.
“It really puts life in perspective … and I’m inspired by so many people.”
She also devotes time to ensure a warm, home-like environment for the participants and their loved ones attending CSCRB. She enjoys sitting in on some of the group sessions in order to be an inspiration to the patients and feels she is a symbol of hope for the seemingly hopeless. “I want them to know that I have walked this walk too.”
Judith, named the 2014 Woman of the Year by the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce, has aided in the expansion of more than 200 monthly programs at CSCRB—including emotional therapy, exercise classes, informational presentations and discussions on how to deal with the inhibitions and limitations that cancer patients face daily. Under her leadership, CSCRB added a Kids Community, teen group and bereavement group that all specialize in support for youth connected to a loved one diagnosed with cancer.
She explains that each program “has the same philosophy: helping people be with one another who are going through the same thing.” The word “community” in the organization’s name emphasizes the important aspect of sharing—a core element in all the activities offered.
While dealing with such a serious, depressing subject each day, how does Judith remain so positive and gracious? “It really puts life in perspective … and I’m inspired by so many people,” she shares. “Even people who have passed are inspirational in the way they deal with a cancer journey. They have learned to enjoy life, and they’ve done everything they could do. I always find that very sad, yet I’m in admiration too.”
Daily she bravely relives her journey as a cancer survivor in order to serve others going through the difficult times she once knew and grieved over. Thankfully she had the ability to move beyond the past and head fearlessly into the future. Her compassion and commitment to CSCRB are unwavering.
Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach will host its annual Girls Night Out fundraiser at The Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach in October to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For more information on this event and others for Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach, visit cancersupportredondobeach.org.