A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky CancerLink born out of one woman’s dream – twice – and a desire to give patients hope

By Melissa Karrer
Special to KyForward

Don’t most good things come from sitting with friends around a dining room table? That’s where the story of Kentucky CancerLink, then Kentucky Pink Connection begins. Above the office door of founder and Executive Director Vicki Blevins Booth reads a quote that says, “Dream until your dreams come true.” In the case of Kentucky CancerLink, one woman’s dream has come true – and it’s made a significant impact.

Vicki Blevins Booth

Vicki Blevins Booth

Vicki Blevins Booth had a dream to help cancer patients, primarily breast cancer patients in the beginning and to provide a support system to reduce barriers to treatment. During her time in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the owner of VDK Turning Point Women’s Health Boutique, Vicki spent countless hours in fitting rooms both at her shop and in clients’ homes listening to their stories – stories of hardship from costs of post-mastectomy bras and prostheses, wigs, childcare and transportation to cancer-related appointments.

Even while running a “for profit” business, she felt led to help out where she could. “My accountant used to tell me that I ran a nonprofit before having a nonprofit,” recalls Vicki with a laugh and then states, “It was heartbreaking to see the loss of hope in these women.”

After being approached by Grogan’s Healthcare Supply in 2005 to sell her business, she decided the timing was right to take the step and move forward with her dream to begin a nonprofit. She called together a group of her closest friends, gathered around her dining room table and got to work planning a way to make that dream a reality.

“What do you do when you need help? You call your friends,” Booth said. Together they put together and submitted paperwork to receive 501(c)3 status, which was granted in a shorter than normal amount of time and put together a board of directors. A grant for funding was written and was awarded by Susan G. Komen Lexington Affiliate. It was time for Kentucky Pink Connection to get to work providing services to breast cancer patients statewide.

Kentucky Pink Connection, based on the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation model, provided one-on-one assistance to breast cancer patients and helped find resources in their communities, or provided assistance as funding was available. Cervical cancer was added to the mission as a majority of the clients Kentucky Pink Connection worked with were eligible for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program.

The Kentucky CancerLink team

The Kentucky CancerLink team

In 2013, Kentucky Pink Connection partnered with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department on a grant to provide screenings and services for colon cancer patients as well. “It was so exciting,” Booth said, “seeing the growth of the program and learning about a whole new population of Kentuckians that could be helped.”

Over the years, clients would call and say, “You helped my sister when she had breast cancer and I have lung cancer, can you help me?” Due to the funding being grant-based primarily for breast and cervical cancer, the answer unfortunately was “no.” “It was so very hard,” Booth said. “Our mission is to provide hope to those in need during a cancer diagnosis and we were having to turn so many away.”

The dreamer got to work yet again and an idea was brought to the board to consider a “leap of faith.” Determined to no longer turn people away because of a “type” of cancer, the board voted to alter the mission to include all cancer diagnoses. “Cancer is not a body part and the barriers are the same,” she said, and Kentucky CancerLink was born. Response from community partners was a positive one. It made sense for Kentucky CancerLink to take this step to be able to provide support to any cancer patient, despite the area of the body where the cancer was present.

The leap of faith has not come without challenge. “There are grants for cancer research in areas for other types of cancers, but few for Patient Navigation,” Booth said. “Finding funding to help the other diagnoses is difficult and we depend on our community partners more than ever, as they have additional funds that are used to help cancers in addition to breast, cervical and colon.”

Unfortunately, the state of Kentucky does not have a great success record when it comes to cancer, with lung and colon cancers being at the forefront. Since the inception of the Kentucky CancerLink, more than 8,000 Kentuckians have received services in all 120 Kentucky counties. Transportation assistance in the form of “gas cards” and taxi rides to and from cancer-related appointments is the number one request that Kentucky CancerLink receives.

Melissa Karrer Story (1)

The statewide population that receives assistance are primarily those at 250 percent at or below poverty guidelines who are under-insured or uninsured. For more information about Kentucky CancerLink and the mission to reduce and/or eliminate barriers to screening, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, visit www.kycancerlink.org.

Melissa Karrer works in Community Relations for Kentucky CancerLink.
 
 
 
 

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