Fighting Together

When Karen Wilhite Williams battled a recurrence of breast cancer in 2010, her sister was there for her every step of the way. Jill Kincaid sat with Williams during her hours-long chemotherapy treatments, entertaining her with movies and humor and giving her an ever-present helping hand.

Yet not all patients are lucky enough to have a support system during what could be described as the most important battle of their lives. Chemotherapy can take anywhere from four to eight hours, and going through it on one’s own can not only be boring but also quite scary. That is why Williams and Kincaid created the Chemo Buddies program at Oncology Hematology Associates in Newburgh, Ind. They wanted to make sure that no one goes through chemotherapy alone. As a result, the sisters co-wrote a proposal outlining the goals of the program to Williams’ oncologist, Dr. Anthony Stephens.

The Chemo Buddies organization was founded on Aug. 22, 2011, almost a month after Williams lost her battle with cancer. In January 2012, Kincaid donned her sunny yellow apron and began the Chemo Buddies program at OHA. Just in its first year, the organization served nearly 6,500 patients.

“When we started out this adventure, we could have never anticipated just how great the need is,” Kincaid says. “Nothing like this had been done before.” With more than one million people diagnosed with cancer each year across the nation, according to the American Cancer Society, it soon became clear that the program is providing a much-needed service. That is especially true here in the Tri-State area. “We are just there for a distraction and to get you out of that funk,” explains Kincaid.

Chemo Buddies do more than just distract, however. The organization’s Facebook page says its mission is to make chemotherapy at OHA a fuller, more life-giving experience, where patients are able to continue to experience life as fully as they can during the time they are in the treatment room.

Serving nearly 50 patients a day, Chemo Buddies assist in the treatment room under three basic pillars of service: to aid physically, mentally, and spiritually. The buddies help patients physically by bringing them items such as snacks, blankets, pillows, or beverages in order to make the treatment process as comfortable as possible. They also provide mental and spiritual support as they circulate the room and talk to each patient, listening to their stories and helping to put them at ease.

“The patients in the blue chairs are royalty,” Kincaid says. “We are their loyal subjects.” Having a bright, cheerful companion to listen and offer cancer patients a gift bag of goodies while they endure their chemotherapy treatments can make a huge difference.

Other people in the community also provide support for cancer patients at OHA, and these efforts are part of the Chemo Buddies program. Prayer chaplains are available to pray with the patients and meet their spiritual needs. Area youth, through the Ambassadors of Hope program, send homemade treat bags to distribute to the patients. Local restaurants also cater meals on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, inmates from Wabash Valley Correctional Facility make many of the blankets that are distributed to patients on their first visit. While not part of the Chemo Buddies program, the blankets are an opportunity for inmates to help the community in a positive way. Additionally, the Chemo Buddies organization is looking for volunteers and financial supporters.

While Williams never got to see her dream become a reality, her presence radiates through every act of kindness at OHA.

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