Cancer support group offers funds and hope

Martha's Vineyard Times file photo
Reaching out to help with care and support. MV Times file photo

By Karla Araujo - February 16, 2006

Battling a disease is an isolating experience. Battling a disease when you live on a small island several hours from a major city can be particularly daunting.

Beth Kramer, 51, former owner of Biga Bakery in West Tisbury, discovered she had breast cancer last May. While she relied on a team of medical specialists at Mass. General in Boston and at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute's Hyannis facility, she depended on a small group of fellow Vineyard cancer patients and survivors to help her through the ordeal. "I'm not sure why I decided to attend my first meeting," Ms. Kramer said. "It just seemed like the right thing to do."

Every Wednesday at noon, a group of cancer patients, family members, survivors, and friends meets at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven. The Martha's Vineyard Cancer Support Group traces its roots back 20 years when a group of Island cancer patients decided to meet regularly to share their experiences. In 1996 they established themselves as a non-profit organization to provide temporary and emergency financial assistance for the cancer-related health-care needs of Island residents.

Judy Olson, chair of the group's board of directors, has been involved with the Cancer Support Group for over 10 years. "I'm a licensed social worker and I was always interested in oncology. I saw the group as an important resource, especially given the isolation from resources that Island patients have to endure."

An invitation to help upcoming benefits

Gala this weekend
This Saturday, Feb. 18, Entrain will provide a night of family entertainment at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. A fundraiser for Martha's Vineyard Cancer Support Group, sponsored by the Harbor View Hotel and the Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank, the area's hottest rock band will play from 7:30 to 10:30pm. Tickets are $25 per person at the door and children under 15 accompanied by a parent are free. Bring your friends and family and support the Island's only organization whose mission it is to offer camaraderie and financial assistance to cancer patients and their families.

An evening under the stars
On May 25, the Martha's Vineyard Cancer Support Group will host its second annual fundraiser at the Mediterranean restaurant on the waterfront in Vineyard Haven. Come out for the live music and delectable hors d'oeuvres and show your support for the Island's only nonprofit group dedicated to cancer patients, survivors and their families. Tickets are $100 per person.

Jane Carroll, a Vineyard native, also joined the Cancer Support Group in a volunteer capacity. A member of the board, she says her sister-in-law's bout with cancer opened her eyes to the importance of a support group.

"The best thing about the organization is that every penny we raise goes directly to help patients on the Island. We have no overhead - no office, no staff, no salaries - so whatever resources we have stay right here."

Both Ms. Carroll and Ms. Olson emphasize that the Cancer Support Group's mission is to provide money to people in need. "You don't have to attend a single meeting in order to qualify for assistance," Ms. Olson said. "You go through a simple application process and the Board reviews your request."

"I can't think of any applicant we've refused since I've been on the board," said Ms. Carroll. "We do whatever we can to help."

The group has awarded funds for transportation, alternative therapy, prescription drugs, utility bills, childcare and groceries. In addition, it serves as a vital, current information clearinghouse about the disease."

As Ms. Olson explained, "Other places to live offer more options and support but we try to link people with information and resources both on- and off-Island," she said. "Our funds are limited, however. We can't be all things to all people but we can help people of all incomes with the unexpected expenses they encounter.""

The group is so committed to education, in fact, that Ms. Kramer, while still herself in treatment, is working with the Martha's Vineyard Hospital to establish and staff an on-site cancer information center.

To date, the Cancer Support Group has awarded nearly $100,000 to more than 300 Island patients and their families. Leslie Stark, 67, also a board member and a survivor of three bouts with cancer, urges patients, survivors and family members to get involved.

"Come to a meeting," he urges. "Even if you take away one little fact or idea that resonates, it's worth it."

Ms. Kramer concurs. "It's a great, giving group of people," she said. With the group's support, she is preparing to become a certified yoga instructor and plans to teach cancer patients on the Island. "It's my way of giving something back," she added.

For more information on the Martha's Vineyard Cancer Support Group, call 508-627-7958 or 508-627-5287.

Karla Araujo is a freelance writer and tennis instructor who divides her time between the Florida Keys and the Vineyard.