It seems everywhere I turn, I hear of someone newly diagnosed with cancer. And it is not just the elderly. It is affecting the young, the middle aged and the physically fit.
The prevalence of this horrific disease struck me recently as I sat in church thinking about two friends who had recently died from the disease. Both were men in their 50s.
Then as I sat watching people file by me on their way to communion I realized nearly every one of them had an association with cancer. There was the woman whose daughter in her mid-20s is battling cancer; the teacher who continues to go to work every day in spite of being tired from his treatments; the young doctor and father of three who is battling brain cancer; the elderly woman who proudly shares her story of survivorship; and the woman whose hair is growing back after undergoing her chemotherapy treatments. They each had a story and a need for support that is different from the other.
Seven years ago I had the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of the opening of a new center in Sandpoint. Community Cancer Services is a nonprofit community supported resource and information center that provides its clients with everything from financial support for prescription medication to gas vouchers to help patients with transportation to and from treatment.
Emotional support comes in the way of support groups for not only those with cancer, but also for their caregivers and children. There is also a social worker on staff for free one on one counseling for the clients.
The center was the vision of Heather Gibson, who for eight years fought the disease which ultimately took her life in August 2006. But thanks to her hard work and the ongoing dedication of her friends and other community members, Community Cancer Services continues to grow and serve those in the Sandpoint community.
When it first opened in October 2003, Community Cancer Services had a handful of clients. Today the client base exceeds 200, a large number of people considering we live in a rural area. But ask anyone who lives here and they will say they have never seen a town such as this when it comes to helping other members of the community in need.
Two years ago CCS nearly closed its doors due to lack of funding. But as they do so often, the community members came together in spite of a difficult economy and made sure their friends, neighbors, and co-workers who suffer from cancer had a place they could go for support.
With a downturn in the economy, it has been a constant struggle for CCS and other nonprofit organizations to raise money, but what I have witnessed in the last couple months gives me hope.
In October a fundraising dinner, auction and wine tasting event helped raise more than $30,000 for CCS. Then on Dec. 10, Schweitzer Mountain Resort hosted the fifth annual A Day for Heather – an event named after Heather Gibson who not only founded CCS but was also an avid skier and well loved by everyone on the mountain. On this day, Schweitzer offered $10 lift tickets and donated 100 percent of its proceeds to CCS.
The result was an astounding $27,610 raised to support area cancer patients. It was a perfect storm of a big snowfall the night before the event as well as Schweitzer opening up the runs on the backside, enthusiasm to hit the slopes but most important a desire to help cancer patients in the community.
A few days after the event, someone approached me and commented that they have never seen a center like Community Cancer Services in any other area. She asked how she can get information as to whether such a place exists in a town in California.
While there may be other centers like Community Cancer Services, unfortunately they are few and far between.
With Christmas just around the corner many, including me, are worrying about getting the right gift for someone on our list. It is my hope that in the rush of the holiday season, people will stop and remember the blessings in their lives and maybe reach out to a charity of their choice – whether it is a place like Community Cancer Services, a local Hospice, a children’s charity or a homeless shelter – and donate some of their money or time to make a difference in someone’s life.