When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, the questions begin. What to do next? What can we expect? And perhaps, the most poignant—Why has this happened to us?
Fortunately cancer patients and their families can turn to caring organizations throughout the St. Louis area for support. Whether it’s 1,000 cyclists raising money for innovative research or one person offering a ride to the doctor’s office, there are volunteers ready to provide hope and comfort at a critical time.
Gateway to Hope (GTH) throws lifelines to those who hear the four dreaded words, ‘You have breast cancer’ and have nowhere to turn for the treatment they need to survive, explains executive director Cindy Frank. “We provide care for breast cancer patients who are uninsured or underinsured. GTH was founded in 2005 by Drs. David Caplin and Marlys Schuh, who both recognized that a significant number of low-income breast cancer patients were unable to access care.” Patients feel tremendous relief when they discover GTH, because many of them have no idea where to turn. “If you get a cancer diagnosis and have insurance, it’s devastating enough, but at least you have the resources to plan a course of treatment,” Frank says. ”Without help or insurance, it’s a death sentence.”
GTH has three “amazing” 20-year veteran oncology nurses on staff who arrange care at no cost to the patient, explains Frank. “But there are so many other needs beyond that. We can also help patients find transportation, arrange childcare or perhaps help them with gap funding to keep up with mortgage payments or utility bills. Our goal is to help keep families and households together.” GTH receives most of its funding through grants, donations and special events such as the upcoming Key to the Cure 3-D at Saks Fifth Avenue in October.
Angela Cobb is executive director of Pedal the Cause, the first St. Louis-based bike ride to support local cancer research, set for Oct. 8 and 9. All the funds raised from Pedal the Cause go to the Cancer Frontier Fund, an initiative of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation to support research. “Discovery research,” Cobb explains, “is typically not the research that’s funded by the government. It involves more innovative and cutting-edge concepts, and it’s often the type of breakthrough research that leads to better treatments and potentially a cure.”
Pedal the Cause is the brainchild of Bill Koman, CEO of The Koman Group and a two-time cancer survivor, Cobb says. “Bill was inspired by the Pan-Mass Challenge, a bike event in Boston that has raised over $270 million for cancer research since 1980.” The two-day event includes a kick-off party with food and entertainment Friday evening at Soldiers Memorial, which is where both the 25-mile and 60-mile routes begin the next day, Cobb says. “The ride begins and ends in St. Louis, and the money stays in St. Louis,” Cobb notes.
Another cancer-related nonprofit, Friends of Kids with Cancer (‘Friends’) began in 1992 with a simple idea: the need for fun, explains Judy Ciapciak, a longtime volunteer who was named executive director in 2002. “Cancer treatment attacks viruses and cells in a child’s body, but the mind, soul and most important, the heart, need to be cared for as well,” she says. “Treating the whole child has brought new, creative programs into the treatment centers through our initiatives.”
One of the most popular Friends programs is Toy Chest, which provides a small gift to a child each time they come for their chemotherapy treatment, Ciapciak explains. “Technicians meet with parents to discover a child’s interests, and then a Friends volunteer goes shopping to find just the right surprises! It distracts them from the needles and shots of intense treatments.” Volunteers are the backbone of the organization, she emphasizes. “We have only two full-time employees. We couldn’t do this work without our dedicated volunteers—they manage fundraising events, shopping, everything.”
Although she has always had a ‘soft spot’ for Friends of Kids with Cancer, Ciapciak wouldn’t mind losing her job. “We pray every day for a cure for this horrible disease, and we would be glad to shut down in a minute.”