TAYLOR COUNTY—A cancer diagnosis can be a very hard thing for families, and aside from the health concerns comes a plethora of additional worries. After experiencing them first-hand, one survivor set out to help others alleviate some of the burdens faced after diagnosis.
Brett Wilson is a two-time childhood cancer survivor of leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
At just two years of age, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and with aggressive treatment, she went into remission. However, just a few years later, she learned that she had relapsed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Wilson finished up treatment in 1982, which included chemotherapy, radiation and multiple years of prescription medication use, and with her diagnoses behind her, she set her sights on helping others.
“The Walking Miracles Family Foundation was a dream I had once I finished treatment in 1982,” she explained. “I told my mother that I was going to create a center to help families like ours, so they would never have to go through the journey like we did, having to figure out all the long-term side effects of my treatment by ourselves.”
In 2006, Wilson began to experience health issues that had stemmed from the treatments received during her cancer diagnoses.
First, she underwent a cholecystectomy to remove her gall bladder that had calcified due to all the chemo and radiation treatments. But the health issues didn’t stop there.
“In 2008, I had my first heart scare and went to my internal medicine doctor who did an EKG, which showed that I had a 28-beat per minute heart rate,” Wilson recalled. “The doctor sent me by ambulance to have my first pacemaker inserted. All without any insurance.”
After the ordeal of not only surviving cancer, twice, and then undergoing multiple surgeries, she decided it was time to make her dream of helping others navigate health care following a cancer diagnosis come to fruition. Thus, Walking Miracles Family Foundation was born.
The non-profit 501(c)3 has a mission of helping caregivers, families and survivors impacted by childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer in West Virginia. To do so, they connect individuals to support networks and resources to assist them navigate their diagnosis, as well as help offset the costs associated with travel to and from treatments.
According to Wilson, in some cases, families will forgo treatment because of the cost of travel.
“The primary barrier to care in West Virginia is travel. Thus, the first program we implemented was the Country Roads Travel Assistance Program,” she revealed. “We have helped more than 200 families and have provided travel assistance to families in 33 of 55 West Virginia counties with our travel card that helps pay for gas, food and lodging.”
Through the initiative, families are provided with a pre-paid debit card totaling $500 a year, given in two $250 increments. To date, Walking Miracles has provided more than $35,000 in travel assistance alone.
In addition to travel expenses, Walking Miracles also helps simplify the world of new terminology, various treatments and future complications that could arise from those treatments through their Patient Navigation services.
“There is a world of helpful information available to cancer patients and their families, but it’s of little value if you don’t know how to access it,” Wilson voiced. “So, we make that easier through the use of an Apple or Android tablet preloaded with information to help you along your cancer journey.”
The tablet also helps to keep patient records organized and in one place for easy access. It also allows patients to establish a personalized Treatment Summary and Care Plan, something that will come in handy in the future.
Wilson shared that a cancer diagnosis is often accompanied by long-term complications, or late effects, of therapy that occur or persist years after treatment ends.
“Fortunately, late effects can be anticipated based on a patient’s prior chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and/or immunotherapy,” she explained. “Through the use of the tablets and our Survivorship Program, we are able to help patients address those issues when they arise.”
And because the folks at Walking Miracles knows that a cancer diagnosis can cause feelings of fear, panic, confusion, anger, depression and loneliness, they work to help provide counseling services for patients and their families.
The Walking Miracles Family Foundation referral network includes local and statewide counselors who provide emotional and spiritual counseling for cancer patients and caregivers.
“This program is available to any West Virginia child, adolescent or young adult, ranging in age from newborns to 39 years old, living with or being treated for cancer, as well as their caregivers and family members,” Wilson noted.
Childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer survivors and their families across West Virginia are encouraged to participate in the many benefits offered to them through the Walking Miracles Family Foundation.
The organization’s support services are offered to families free of charge.
And because they are a non-profit, Walking Miracles depends on the generosity, caring and compassion of individuals to help keep their programs going.
“Please help us continue to provide the tools necessary to West Virginia families whose children have been diagnosed with cancer,” Wilson voiced. “Your donation is vital for removing the barriers between children with cancer and the treatment they need to survive and thrive.”
Those wishing to make a donation to Walking Miracles may do so by visiting their website www.walkingmiracles.org.
For more information on the programs provided, as well as eligibility requirements, please visit the aforementioned website or call toll-free 833-496-3398. In addition, individuals may also contact Wilson directly by calling 304-550-9599 or emailing [email protected].