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Grassroots cancer group helps when going gets tough

Cancer Connections offers services to seven Southeast communities

Posted: Thursday, October 01, 2009

A local grassroots organization designed to assist people living with cancer will have a chance to shine this month during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"We're there when folks are in shock about their diagnosis and sorting their options," said Cancer Connection President Tish Griffin Satre. "We provide a friendly ear to listen and help with the resources we're aware of in Alaska and Washington to assist patients navigating the health care system."

Cancer Connection, located in the Juneau Family Health and Birth Center building, sponsors education programs and awareness events with the intent of prevention and early detection of cancer.

"We are here to help one-on-one, but we don't offer medical advice or referrals," Satre said. "We've mostly just traveled the journey of a diagnoses, and there are some commonalties of the experience to share."

Cancer Connections serves seven Southeast communities with a variety of services: a monthly Cancer Survivor's Support Group, travel assistance, counseling and the "Let's Talk" program, which matches trained "buddies" one-on-one with cancer patients. In travel assistance alone, the organization assists an average of 40 to 60 cancer patients a year.

"Our mission is to bring together health and wellness resources for people residing in Southeast Alaska, thereby empowering them to make sound decisions and choices with the goal of prolonging their quality of life whether in time of crisis or fulfillment," Satre said.

The organization, founded in 1996 by Mike Miller as the Southeast Alaska Cancer and Wellness Foundation, had humble beginnings as just a support group for survivors. But it has since evolved "as needs became more pronounced in Southeast," Satre said.

Satre, who was vice president for several years before becoming president in 2006, first got involved with Cancer Connection in 1997, when she was initially diagnosed with bladder, kidney and cervical cancer.

"That was my 1997 cancer-of-the-month club," Satre joked. "It was a great support to have fellow survivors to lean on. I had sort of become the poster child for cancer in Juneau and felt I could bring awareness to our organization and the needs of survivors in Southeast Alaska."

Although its donators, or "friends" database, is about 950 strong, Cancer Connection would like to increase its $500-per-year travel assistance program for those undergoing treatment, Satre said.

"We see bills for $4,000-plus when someone leaves town for surgery or radiation treatment and we can only help so much," she said. "Becoming a 'friend' and making a donation online, or by attending a fundraising event like the Beat the Odds walk/run in August or the upcoming Nov. 7 event at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, means we can continue to provide the men's and women's health forums, the cancer retreat and continue the support groups and counseling."

Cancer Connection also hopes additional funding will allow them to offer regular office hours.

"We know the needs are out there, and we try to keep our overhead as low as possible," Satre said. "We're here to help our friends and neighbors when they face cancer. The money you give stays locally and is used for direct client services. We welcome volunteers and financial assistance."

Operated by an all-volunteer eight-member board, Cancer Connection has a paid office administrator who works 10 hours a week, as well as a volunteer bookkeeper. The organization is sponsored by Coastal Helicopters, Glacier Valley Rotary, Waterfall Foundation and United Way.

Hours are by appointment only. For more information, call 796-2273 or visit www.cancerconnectionak.org.

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or kim.andree@juneauempire.com.



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