Everyday heroes taking up cause of South Carolina cancer patients

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I’ve always had a thing for superheroes, Superman being my hero of choice. I grew up poor. Now when I say poor, I don’t mean can’t-afford-the latest-designer-jeans poor; I mean not-knowing-where-my-next-meal-was-coming-from poor. I would daydream about Superman swooping in and rescuing me, and then, to pay it forward, I would work to help make the world a better place.

While no one in a blue suit and red cape came to rescue me, I did work my way out of poverty, marry a superhero in his own right, and now I am working for a foundation that helps make the world a better place for local cancer patients – the Savannah River Cancer Foundation.

The Savannah River Cancer Foundation offers financial assistance to patients of any age – with any type of cancer being treated at any facility – who reside in Aiken, Allendale, Barnwell and Edgefield counties, in the form of gas money to get to their treatments and with the cost of cancer-related medication. This assistance is offered to patients who fall within 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Regardless of income, the foundation also provides referrals to other organizations that provide assistance and maintains the Web site www.savannahrivercancerfoundation.org, which has cancer information and links to other cancer organizations.

OUR PATIENTS WALK through our doors at one of the most difficult and confusing times in their lives. In talking with them, we find that there usually are other needs in addition to transportation and medication, and help put them in touch with organizations that can help. With this help, on top of the financial assistance we provide, the patients usually are smiling and hug us when they leave.

Those hugs are the best reward, and I certainly feel like I am soaring.

The foundation also co-facilitates a support group for cancer patients, their families and caregivers. It is held the third Wednesday of each month (excluding December) from 3 to 4 p.m. in the parlor at Aiken’s First Baptist Church, 120 Chesterfield St. N.E., in downtown Aiken. The support group allows attendees to share their experiences, exchange information about available resources and reinforce the sense that they are not alone in their journey to survival.

Another part of the foundation’s mission is to educate about the early detection and prevention of cancer. We do this by partnering with other organizations and media to present programs relating to specific common cancers; distributing educational materials including SRCF fact sheets with information about risk factors, warning signs, screening and diagnosis; and providing speakers to various community groups about cancer screening and prevention. Providing this information helps empower people with concerns to speak with their doctors.

No one knows your body better than you do. Having this knowledge can help you make better health decisions and have more informed conversations with doctors. This power saves lives. It has mine. I am 37 years old, and I have had two close calls with cancer. Knowing warning signs saved my life, and working with my doctors on prevention, I plan to live as long as I can, always working to give back.

ACCORDING TO THE American Cancer Society’s 2013 Cancer Facts & Figures, South Carolina will have an estimated 27,620 new cancer cases this year. There is a great need for this foundation. There is a great need for patients to know about us. There is a great need for funding so that no matter how many patients seek help, they aren’t turned away.

Our programs are administered with funding provided by individual donations, memorials, local and regional grants and fund-raisers, both community-sponsored and our own. As a United Way of Aiken County partner agency, we also receive funding from the United Way. Many generous community groups have stepped up to raise money for our cancer patients. Because the Savannah River Cancer Foundation is local, every dollar of every donation stays in our four-county community, and as a 501(c)(3), donations are tax-deductible.

Financial assistance applications can be found on our Web site, or patients can call toll-free at (866) 870-LIFE (5433) to request an application by mail. To speak with me about speaking to your group, holding a fund-raiser or making a private donation, call the toll-free number or email me at srcfdirector@yahoo.com.

As I stare at the Superman cape on the back of my office chair, I am reminded that there will always be people who need help and there will always be everyday heroes to take up their cause. I am reminded of my responsibility to pay it forward, and I am blessed to work with such wonderful patients, families, donors, volunteers and medical professionals.

The Savannah River Cancer Foundation is at 235 Barnwell Ave., N.W., Aiken, S.C. 29801. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

(The writer is executive director of the Savannah River Cancer Foundation.)

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