Cancer Connection really wants to connect people diagnosed with cancer with resources, information and people who can help them get through a fairly dramatic diagnosis. We're about all the different connections you can make whether it's support groups or assistance, a buddy program or basic information about what cancer is or connecting them with somebody who has had what they have. Sometimes that can be comforting to talk to someone who has walked that path.
It started because there was a need in this community because so many people diagnosed have to travel outside (of Alaska).
How and when did Cancer Connection get started?
It started in 1997. It was founded by Mike Miller, who was the Glacier swim coach at the time. He had been diagnosed with advanced stage prostate cancer and started having a support group meeting. Men didn't come, but women did. The American Cancer Society closed its offices in Juneau, and he saw a need for a support system. We've evolved in 10 years by a board of mostly survivors who have walked the walk and want to help other people who are going through the same thing. It's been a real calling for most of us because we know the need is there. At a time when people are facing a critical diagnosis - hopefully we're there to help.
How do you raise funds?
Our signature fund-raiser is coming up Sept. 1, Beat the Odds, a women's race against cancer, our big fund-raiser. It's a $15,000 big one for us. This community raises money for us in so many wonderful ways.
Coastal Helicopters does a locals day and donates all proceeds; all their pilots and gas all donated. They write us a check for $8,000 in the springtime, which is just incredible. This year we were selected as charity of the year from Alaskan Brewing Company so they're collecting all this summer from tourists. At Beat the Odds last year, I had a little girl come up and give me her lemonade stand money. You can't ask for something more heartfelt, and it all helps.
If it wasn't for the generosity of this community, we would not exist. We're also a United Way organization so people have the option to donate to us through United Way gift as well.
How do you see the organization making impact in Southeast Alaska?
We started out as Juneau, but our vision includes all of Southeast. Last year we helped seven different communities, and we want to be the resource in Southeast.
Now Ketchikan, Sitka and some of the larger communities have support groups, but we've helped people in Petersburg, Hoonah and Angoon. It's really heartfelt when you get that crisis call from there and you know they don't have even the medical support. Many times their needs are to get to Juneau and sometimes outside. We do everything we can to support the Southeast.
The thing that I see we're best known for is travel assistance. Insurance may pay for the flight to Seattle, but nobody pays for the hotel and taxicabs or all those expenses that are travel related. People who don't have insurance we've been able to connect to Alaska Airlines and its program Angel Flight. There have just been some heartfelt thanks from people afterwards where you know you've made a difference in their life.
Sometimes it's when a person calls on the phone line and they just had a diagnosis, it's having that ability to communicate that there's hope.
This isn't the end of the world - cancer is highly treatable - we're really starting to beat the odds.
Cancer is not a death sentence anymore, and it's not something you have to keep secret.
You have the ability to talk about it, and we're there to help you through that. It can be a really confusing time with a lot of information, we can help you sort things through and help you make the best decisions with whatever you need help with.
What does Cancer Connection meanpersonally to you?
I became involved with Cancer Connection at almost the beginning, 10 years. I was a Mike Miller recruit, and had faced a fairly unusual diagnosis for my age and circumstance.
I had bladder cancer, and it's usually a lifetime smoker, over 65, male disease.
I have never smoked, wasn't male and was trying to figure out: why me? So Cancer Connection really provided me a support group initially.
I had a buddy, and he had been through this twice and was helpful to me. It didn't matter that we were different sex and 40 years difference in age. It was just a terrific connection and that's what keeps me doing this. I'm three and a half years without any cancer in my life. I celebrate that absolutely everyday, but I know that at any given time reoccurance for survivors odds are increased. I'm a three-time cancer survivor, and Cancer Connection was with me every step through each diagnosis. We're like a little family.
The board has been the same people for numerous years, and in fact we want new people. At some point you have to increase your board to increase your effectiveness. I think it's meaningful work as a volunteer. Once you have walked the walk there are just things that you know to do and what not to do. It's like people who have their second kid - it's been there, done that. You know a little more and it's not as horribly scary. Hopefully we can provide that support for folks.
Editor's note: Capital City Weekly each week will feature a business or organizational leader to answer five questions. To send suggestions for interviewees, send e-mail to Amanda Gragert at firstname.lastname@example.org.