Phil Zielke was diagnosed with Stage 4B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2004. He had been in the most advanced stage of the disease for nearly nine months. Following his diagnosis, Phil endured aggressive chemotherapy treatments at the University of Chicago Hospital. When he showed no more signs of cancer, he went on to begin his first year as a fourth grade teacher in the fall.
In April 2005, three months away from his wedding to fiancee Carrie, Phil received the news that his cancer was back. He not only had to postpone his wedding, but also step away from his teaching job to begin treatment once again. At the height of those treatments he underwent several days of lethal chemotherapy followed by a stem-cell transplant.
Going through the disease two times, there were moments that were blanketed by feelings of hopelessness. But as challenging and dark as these trials were, something hopeful and positive was birthed. Using his illness and what he had learned through that journey, God equipped him to help others in similar situations. It was on Phil’s hospital bed that the vision of Phil’s Friends was born.
Phil was inspired by the thoughtfulness and selfless love of others when he received a care package, weekly encouraging cards and an outpouring of prayerful support throughout his journey. These were simple reminders that brought the hope he needed. In November 2005, Phil was cancer-free and was able to resume teaching. Carrie and Phil returned to planning their wedding, which took place the following summer.
Phil’s Friends began supporting others through free care packages, weekly cards and prayer because of the support he himself had received. In June of 2009, Phil left teaching to devote his time fully to building the organization. Within a few months the organization moved out of Phil and Carrie’s basement and into the community to establish the Phil’s Friends Hope Center.
Today, Phil’s Friends engages an army of volunteers that enables the organization to support thousands of persons with cancer across the United States through Care Packages, Cards of Hope, Hospital Visits, and Prayer. Phil and Carrie have devoted their lives to carrying forward the bold vision of supporting those with cancer in homes and hospitals across the world. They reside in the suburbs of Chicago with their sons Graham and Hudson.