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Cancer exacts a heavy physical and emotional toll. Patients shouldn’t also have to worry about how to pay for a utility bill or groceries.
That’s the founding principal of two regional cancer support charities in rural Wisconsin.
Sparta Area Cancer Support has embraced a neighbors helping neighbors mission since 1970, raising money specifically to help cancer patients in Sparta and nearby communities pay household bills.
“We help with fuel, gas cards, groceries, medical bills, any costs they have,” said Karen Edwards, co-president of the charity’s board of directors.
About 150 miles away in southern Wisconsin, Rock County Cancer Coalition offers similar financial aid for cancer patients in their community. The group was started in 2010 by volunteers who wanted to fill a critical unmet need.
“The founders realized there were not a lot of avenues for those who were struggling financially when they were diagnosed with cancer and all the way through post treatment,” said Executive Director Lucy Beckord.
Locally focused charities like these exemplify the mission of Garding Against Cancer, founded in 2016 by University of Wisconsin men’s basketball head coach Greg Gard and his wife, Michelle. When Greg’s father, Glen Gard, passed away from brain cancer, Greg and Michelle decided to honor his memory by raising money to support cancer-related services and research in communities across Wisconsin. Glen was always passionate about investing in his small-town community and looking out for his neighbors.
Garding Against Cancer, a UW Carbone Cancer Center initiative, has raised more than $6.5 million, all of which stays in Wisconsin to support cancer research as well as patient care and prevention. At UW Carbone, Garding Against Cancer funds enable researchers to explore promising new ideas, purchase new cancer research technology, and develop better methods of diagnosing, treating, and preventing cancer.
Funds also are distributed to a variety of organizations statewide that champion cancer prevention and patient support services, including small local charities and health care service providers. Both Sparta Area Cancer Support and Rock County Cancer Coalition are among the regional charities to receive funds from Garding Against Cancer.
“We’re just so grateful,” Beckord said. “Garding Against Cancer is such an impactful initiative.”
Beckord, the only paid employee for Rock County Cancer Coalition, was hired to help grow the grassroots effort in new ways. In addition to providing financial aid to patients, the coalition has now added mentoring and support group services. Beckord also plans to increase fundraising efforts to launch new efforts like counseling services, education and outreach.
"Our goal is to continue serving all Rock County residents who are affected by cancer while making our community stronger," Beckord said.
Both Beckord and Edwards said they have strong support among citizens and businesses in their communities because donors know their money is used to help family, friends and neighbors where they live.
“We’ve got a thermometer down at Hanson’s (grocery) store and we keep increasing the money so that people know exactly where their money is going,” Edwards said.
Volunteers with Sparta Area Cancer Support also help transport patients to and from medical appointments, as well as go visit with patients in their homes to cheer them up. Donations also go toward supporting regional cancer research efforts.
“We’ve had really good volunteers, and we’ve gotten a lot of kids involved too,” Edwards said.