Few things are more frightening than being diagnosed with a cancer that requires a treatment that can be as painful as the disease itself. What magnifies that burden, however, is not even having the means or the money to get to the facility that provides the life-saving treatment.
Monique Dennie is the founder of the Caddo-Bossier Cancer Foundation League (CBCFL), a nonprofit organization founded in 2011 with the help of friends and fellow cancer survivors. The CBCFL is a nonprofit organization that provides direct assistance such as transportation, lodging and personal items, to support patients undergoing cancer treatment at Willis-Knighton Cancer Center.
Dennie remembers the day she was first faced with the stunning realization that just because cancer treatment is available doesn’t guarantee treatment for everyone. “Being a cancer patient, I was going through treatment myself. For radiation, you go every day. You see the same patients, and it was somewhat comforting seeing them each day. I was able to forget my cancer for a little while. I’d see a young woman with brain cancer, and it taught me that cancer is not just pink. It’s all colors.”
As Dennie finished her radiation, she’d tell people, “I’ll see you tomorrow. But then I started hearing some patients say, ‘Oh, no, I can’t come before Thursday. My daughter is working, and nobody can bring me in.’ Another one would say, ‘Oh, the gas is too expensive. We cannot afford to drive every day.’ They didn’t have enough money for lodging if they came from Monroe or Ruston. I thought, oh, my gosh, if they don’t get their treatment, a lot of them are not going to make it – because that’s why we get the treatments, to have a chance to survive this disease. So right at the beginning I knew I needed to do something.”
During her treatments, Dennie had a good friend, Tracy, who was also going through radiation. “We had our treatments together, and we would have lunch and talk about what we needed to do to help the others. We would do things like bring them special cream for wherever they had received radiation… because it burns. Tracy and I decided that when we both finished our treatment, we were going to do something. We just didn’t know what.”
“Well, Tracy didn’t survive,” Dennie said. “She died in April, and in June, I was well enough to meet with the founder of a foundation in Monroe to find out how to start a foundation. They helped me so much.”
“So I came home and I sat down and wrote the mission of what I wanted to do, what needed to be done,” Dennie said.
What Dennie ended up doing was bringing together people in the community who couldn’t say no. Everyone she talked to knew she had a super idea, from her attorney to her CPA, to her own personal doctor. By Christmas, they had nonprofit status and had put together 50 bags for patients getting cancer treatment.
The office is run by volunteers and subject to HPPA regulation, which the group strictly follows. “Willis-Knighton has been so generous. They donated a furnished office, and we’ve never had to pay. Now we have six volunteers who work in the office one week every six weeks. We’re so much busier now. When we started in 2011, we were seeing maybe 20 patients or less a week. Now, it’s 20 patients a day.”
People have been drawn to the program because of the obvious need, and largely because of Monique Dennie. Jenny Norwood is a local nurse, and she serves on the board of CBCFL. When Norwood was asked what drew her to the foundation, she simply said, “Monique,” before lauging. “Monique has a way … you might get away with ‘no’ the first time, but …” Then Norwood added, “Monique was so kind to invite me. I didn’t really know anything about it except for Monique’s background; what she had been through, and that she was the founder.
“But I think what was convincing to me was the gas cards, the lodging, the means for people to get to their care. I’ve done hospice work and I have been in some homes that you wouldn’t believe. Some people don’t even have the car, much less the gas to put into it.”
“I’ve been on other boards that have done great work,” added Norwood, “but this actually helps a human being get treatment that could cure them and prolong their life. That’s pretty incredible. Something else that really impressed me is that 98 percent of these proceeds go to the patients. There is only a 2 percent administration fee. That’s unheard of, and that really speaks to me.”
Both Dennie and Norwood got giddy when they talked about the upcoming CBCFL fund-raiser on May 6. “It’s always on Derby Day, and it’s our biggest fundraiser for the foundation,” Dennie said. “It’s always hosted in a beautiful home, and this year it will be held at Provenance in the home of Dr. Christopher Shelby from 3 – 6:30. There will be a duck race on the pond, a hat contest, a wine pull, fantastic food by John Carriere. The open bar will have a mint julep, of course. Our first fund-raiser raised $35,000, and last year it brought in over $80,000.”
“For me, it was bittersweet to hear Monique’s success story and what she encountered with her friend, Tracy,” Norwood said, “but the good that has come from it is exponential and continues to grow every year.”
– Susan Reeks
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
The CBCFL has membership levels, but donations are encouraged in any amount, as well as for memorials. For more information, call (318) 212-4585.