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Ex-chef creates cancer nonprofit for 'art of living'

December 24, 2014
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Werner Absenger
Werner Absenger. Courtesy Absenger Cancer Education Foundation

A former chef is dedicating his life to his new educational nonprofit focused on helping cancer survivors with its holistic and evidence-based “art of living.”

The Absenger Cancer Education Foundation in Spring Lake, or ACEF, opened this month, at 17212 Van Wagoner Rd.

Werner Absenger — founder of ACEF, former chef de cuisine at Cyngus 27 at Amway Grand Plaza and a mind-body medicine scientist — said since opening, the feedback from people who have come to the nonprofit has been “pretty phenomenal.”

Mind-body and traditional medicine

The nonprofit’s vision to improve the quality of life for cancer survivors and caretakers in the West Michigan region through research, education and empowering people to integrate mind-body medicine modalities into cancer survivorship.

Founded on a concept of using evidence-based nutrition and mind-body medicine, in combination with traditional medicine, ACEF offers services and programs to both cancer survivors and caregivers: music therapy, yoga, Qigong, eight-week stress management and mind-body skill building, six-week mindful eating program, meditation, survivor and caretaker support group and monthly educational events and speakers.

“People think it is a great idea, and it is really a missing link, especially cancer survivors who have been here — it’s been a missing link for them to make the transition from active treatment into survivorship care,” Absenger said. “Our offerings really help those survivors with the anxiety involved around survivorship. Some of the people who stop by have told me, as one can only imagine, cancer is absolutely life transforming, and what we are offering actually helps people deal with the existential crisis they are facing.

“We have three major foci: one is to educate the public and health care providers about some of the benefits mind-body medicine could have in cancer survivorship and then another one is to show cancer survivors, caregivers, people with other chronic diseases how they might benefit from mind-body medicine. The last focus is to trying to do mind-body research.”


There are seven instructors providing classes at ACEF: Mick Von Doxtater, Qigong trainer; Dawn Emrick and Lisa Ziemelis, board certified music therapists; Karri Absenger, licensed practical nurse and registered yoga teacher; Nancy Arbuckle-Hinks, licensed professional counselor; Alexandria Baker, relationship and intimacy coach; and Absenger.


The nonprofit provides two tiers of membership for its Self Care in Cancer Survivorship Program: an individual membership is $29 a month; a caretaker membership for two people is $39 a month.

The memberships include several benefits: the stress management and mind-body skills-building program, four music-therapy classes, individual nutritional counseling, yoga therapy, three medical-hypnosis programs and monthly educational workshops and events.

Although a membership isn't required to takes classes at ACEF, it reduces the overall cost for those who participate more frequently. Classes for non-members range from $8 to $20, while costs are roughly half price or free for members.

“My full potential” and retirement savings

Absenger created the educational cancer nonprofit with his wife, Karri Absenger, in honor of his parents’ journey, as his father battled cancer for roughly seven years.

During that time, Absenger said his family was looking at both modern medical treatment and integrated medicinal approaches and found there was relatively little information at that time.

“It was really a wake-up call for me,” Absenger said. “My dad’s death put my life into perspective, so to speak — where I was, where I was going and where I wanted to be and what impact I wanted to leave once it is my time to leave this planet. I wanted to contribute to something and finally I figured out maybe the best way is to start educating myself and start living up to my full potential, whatever that might be.”

The former chef turned his attention to alternative medicine, human nutrition and mind-body medicine, as he received a B.S. from Everglades University, before going on to earn an M.S. from the University of Bridgeport and becoming a Ph.D. candidate with Saybrook University.

Absenger also attended a variety of other universities to receive non-degree education, such as a fundamentals of neuroscience certificate from Harvard University and an internship at the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“As I was doing that, the cancer education came about and developed, especially after I went to Anderson Cancer Center,” Absenger said. “It became very apparent that this is something that I wanted to do in West Michigan, only, of course, on a much smaller scale.”

Using retirement savings to create ACEF, Absenger said the membership model is designed to add financial stability to the organization, with a hope in the future to apply for grant funding to do research as the foundation grows.

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