Susan Franklin knows exactly how many miles she can continue driving her car after her gas light illuminates. Unable to afford filling up her tank regularly, she’s pushed the car to its fuel limit on more than one occasion.
As a single mother diagnosed with breast cancer this summer, the 47-year-old substitute teacher doesn’t have many people she can rely on for rides to her appointments.
Her adult children help when they can, but she said her husband left her just weeks after her diagnosis and she and her 8-year-old son live with her elderly parents.
“I do feel like a burden to them when I was supposed to be a help to them,” Franklin said.
Cancer Patient Care stepped in to ease that burden.
The Spokane-based nonprofit supports people who have an active cancer diagnosis with everything they might need other than their medical treatment. The organization offers gas cards, money for groceries and utilities, bus passes, wigs, and handmade hats and scarves for patients and their families. They lend patients wheelchairs, hospital beds and other medical equipment.
They also provide moral support and a community of people who can relate to the struggles of a cancer patient.
On Franklin’s first visit, Cancer Patient Care offered her $100 in gas cards.
“It was such a simple thing but it was so helpful for me,” she said. “Because then that was one thing I didn’t have to worry about.”
But now Franklin and the charity’s 363 other current clients have a different worry: that the support they receive from Cancer Patient Care may no longer exist due to a lack of funding.
Executive Director Melissa Halverson said the charity is funded entirely through grants, donations and its own fundraising efforts. In the last year, client numbers have increased about 25 to 30 percent, but funding is down about $100,000.
The 54-year-old organization has stopped accepting new clients until its funding future is clearer.
“We’re owned by the community, we’re a resource for the community and we depend completely on the community to keep us going and make sure that we’re here to help those people that need it,” Halverson said.
A recent $10,000 grant from the Providence Community Benefits grant program was a significant boost, she said. That amount of money could either fund Cancer Patient Care’s administrative costs for a whole month or could serve countless clients. But the foundation still needs about $30,000 more to make it until its next big fundraiser in February, Halverson said.
All of the money going to the charity remains in the region, as the organization serves 10 counties in Washington and seven in Idaho. Halverson and her team see thousands of clients every year, averaging 300 to 400 a month. Clients with an income of 70 percent of the median income in Spokane County are eligible to apply for financial assistance from Cancer Patient Care. There are no income restrictions for services like the wigs, Halverson said, which are donated to the center but usually cost hundreds of dollars.
Clients can return once a month to receive financial assistance but are always welcome at the office to try on wigs or to speak with a social worker.
“We used to have some money in a savings but we’ve had to use it over the last several years just to keep up with the rising costs of staying in business,” Halverson said, adding that she’s reduced her staff from eight employees to two administrators and two social workers.
Clients who have heard of the possible closure of the facility have sat in the waiting room crying, she said.
“When people come in here, it gives them hope,” Halverson said. “We hear every single day from clients who say, ‘I just felt so supported and loved when I came in. It was like somebody giving you a big hug.’ And sometimes we do that physically, just giving somebody that hug and saying, ‘We’re here and we’re going to help you through it.’”