Threat of cancer has pushed Desert Cancer Foundation to grow beyond expectations

by Luci Scott
The Arizona Republic

October 28, 2009 — A dozen years ago, the Desert Cancer Foundation of Arizona began with four women who wanted to raise money to provide breast cancer screening for the uninsured or underinsured.

At first, the group limped along with a handful of dedicated volunteers. Last week, the crowd at the group’s annual luncheon outgrew the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort in downtown Chandler and moved to the resort’s pavilion, which was packed.

The organization has expanded to include screening for prostate cancer, and there is talk of including screening for skin cancer. Screenings have grown to encompass most of metro Phoenix.

“We’re still growing,” said Patti Bruno, immediate past president and co-chairwoman of the luncheon.

The key is persuading medical centers to help with the screening. “We’re willing to go anywhere in the state if we can get partners,” Bruno said.

This year’s foundation board president is Bob Caccamo, Chandler’s vice mayor, who spoke at the luncheon.

“We probably know everything there is to know about cancer except for three things: what causes it, what prevents it and what cures it,” Caccamo said. “We know early detection can put it in remission.”

Caccamo praised the foundation’s board members, who he said are unlike board members of many other groups who show up only for picture taking.

As for those on the Desert Cancer Foundation board, he said, “All 22 show up to work. We have to drag them out to get their picture taken.”

He called for more volunteers, who he said can work as little as one Saturday a year.

“You (work at) a screening . . . and you see we’re detecting cancer early and giving hope to people,” he said. “You’ll put hope in your heart, and you can see you make a difference.”

At the luncheon, the Edgar H. Hernandez Humanitarian Award was presented to Dr. Belinda Barclay-White and Dr. Coral Quiet, co-founders of the Arizona Institute for Breast Health. It is a non-profit organization that provides women a second opinion free of charge after they are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Luncheon speakers were cancer survivor and board member Jodi Helmer and three physicians – Edgar H. Hernandez, S. Eric Olyejar and Matthew Karlovsky.

Olyejar led a prayer for Paula Wirth, a founding member and a patient at M.D. Andersen Cancer Center in Houston.

Christine Faraci, a 20-year survivor of breast cancer, received the Linda Rainford Award. Faraci helped organize the Soul Survivor’s Choir to work on music to inspire hope in the healing process, and she founded Breast Buds Inc., which provides education and support services.