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5NEWS Anchor Goes “Over The Edge” Supporting Cancer Patients

FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- For the second year, Survivors’ Challenge Weekend kicked off with Over the Edge where only the brave enough rappel eight stories down the side of the First National Bank building in downtown Fort Smith.

5NEWS Anchor Erika Thomas volunteered to gear up and head down, supported by nothing but a harness and rope. The concept of support is so important because the event raises awareness and money for the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House. Every dollar raised stays local to support cancer patients as they fight for their lives.

Tucked behind Creekmore Park in the heart of Fort Smith,  a grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation paid for the 22,000 square foot facility back in 2000.  It offers services Monday through Friday. Every year, 5,000+ patients walk through these doors. 500 of them have just been diagnosed.

"Cancer is a scary word. It’s scary. And the older you get, the bigger your risk," said Susan Steffens, Executive Director. “And it amazes me that this company has been here for 39 years and people still don’t know we’re here. And I don’t like knowing that we’re a secret.”

Outreach Coordinator Amy Willadsen highlighted some of the free resources available to patients.

"It could be a wig, it could be a support group, it could be financial assistance. A lot of times they just don’t know," said Amy Willadsen, Outreach Coordinator.

The salon is full of wigs volunteers customize for clients in a very private setting that would usually cost $250 to $400.

”So if you’re living paycheck to paycheck already, living on a limited income, you can’t work because you’re in cancer treatment, you’re choosing between buying a wig or buying your groceries, said Willadsen.

Gas cards are another major need so people don’t have to give up traveling to treatment so they can pay for prescriptions. The medical supply room is full of bras, prosthetics and ostomy supplies. Down the hall, patients and caregivers can cope with the emotional struggles of a diagnosis. 13 support groups meet throughout the month including one that makes quilts to decorate the halls, signed by every patient on their first day. And those signatures include children. About 5% of those served here are kids and they get their own space to hang out and an art room. The need is there every day and without federal or state funding, the Reynolds Cancer Support House relies on the community to survive.

"Taking care of the basic necessities. We don’t charge a penny for anything that we do for cancer patients. So the more donations, the more money we get, 100% goes back to the cancer patient," said Steffens.

Everything at the Cancer Support House is free and Steffens said they hope to net up to $75,000 this weekend. Along with Over the Edge, Survivors’ Challenge Weekend included a 10K run, a 5K run and walk and a celebration walk on Saturday (Oct. 14). Reynolds is the largest free-standing cancer support house in the nation.

Steffens also sent 5NEWS more background information about the history of the house:

"The roots of the Reynolds Cancer Support House can be tracked back to 1978 when a few local physicians recognized that cancer patients needed transportation assistance to get back and forth to treatment.  A van was purchased and the mission was born.  However, it was soon evident that these same patients needed much more than transportation.  They needed information in order to make informed choices about treatment.  They needed to connect with others.  They needed a place of their own where they could voice fears, concerns and questions.  They needed wigs, hats and turbans to ease the trauma of hair loss.  They also needed help paying for such things as food, utilities, medication and other essentials during treatment.  By 1990, each of these concerns was being addressed through the Phillips Cancer Support House, a small red brick building on Dodson Avenue.  In 2000, a gift from the Reynolds Foundation allowed the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House, a 22,000-square-foot facility located behind Creekmore Park, to open its doors with expanded services!  Thirty-nine years later, the Cancer Support House continues its mission to support cancer patients through their battle with cancer."