When a family faces a life-threatening diagnosis such as cancer, they're not just left to deal with the illness. Unfortunately, the financial burden of treating the disease is plagued with other hidden costs that act as additional hurdles before treatment can even begin. In reality, cancer patients may face myriad hardships and have few places to turn for help.
Jim and Tammy Wallace, of Tehachapi, found out about the unexpected costs of cancer after Tammy was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in October 2012. As a team captain for Relay for Life for nine years, Tammy had raised more than $100,000 for the American Cancer Society. But when she journeyed from crusader to patient, she and Jim found there were a lack of resources available to help them in her fight for life.
"When you are going through cancer, it takes both of you away from your jobs," said Jim. "Not just the person fighting, but also your spouse or significant other, and you are both losing income."
The Wallaces decided to begin the Tehachapi Cancer Foundation so they could help other local patients transcend and rise above their diagnosis. Unfortunately for Tammy, her fight came to an end in September 2014.
As the remaining founder, Jim Wallace continues to carry the torch for other cancer patients by keeping the Tehachapi Cancer Foundation up and operating.
Said Wallace, "That's the nice thing about the Tehachapi Cancer Foundation — we don't have any boundaries. We are not strictly medical or co-pay. We evaluate the need, and we do our best to fulfill it."
Through the foundation, Wallace said he was able to put tires on the car of one family who would not have otherwise been able to make the drive out of town three times a week for treatment.
Said Wallace, "We will let the Big People take care of the R&D — research and development — and we'll take care of the people."
Best of all, Wallace said that what is raised here, stays here.
Since its inception, the foundation has operated solely on monetary donations as well as other much-needed, in-kind donations such as gas cards so patients can get to and from their medical appointments. Recently, the foundation was among the recipients of the Cheers to Charity fundraiser held last August.
"Jim's commitment to Tehachapi area cancer patients is heartfelt and authentic," said Mary Beth Garrison, president of Cheers to Charity, who presented Wallace with a check for $7,000 for the foundation. "He has taken a very personal experience and made it into a positive effort to improve the lives of friends and neighbors battling cancer."
Garrison said it makes her heart happy to hear the types of things Wallace has done with the money.
"Because it is so personal to him, it becomes personal for all of us! We are privileged to play a small part," she said.
According to Wallace, the Cheers to Charity donation was "amazing."
"It's going to help so many people in this town," he said.
To supplement the foundation's finances, Wallace periodically hosts fundraisers in addition to offering a donation link on the foundation's website. When he has specific needs, he posts them to the foundation's Facebook page, and he says the community is quick to respond.
In preparation for winter, Wallace said he has collected knit hats, scarves and mittens for patients who often develop neuropathy and are very sensitive to the cold.
Said Wallace, "Neuropathy is a very, very common side affect of chemo. We have even found firewood for a family because that was their only source of heat."
People can also help raise money for the foundation simply by shopping on Amazon at no additional charge to them.
Said Wallace, "If you go to smile.amazon.com and go to the link 'choose your charity,' we are one of the approved charities. It doesn't come out of your pocket. Amazon donates a half of percent of whatever your purchase to your charity."
On the foundation's website, tehachapicancerfoundation.org, there is also a referral link for patients who need assistance paying for their medication.
Said Wallace, "One of the medications that Tammy was on was $10,000 for a month for a live-saving drug!"
Wallace said he worked together with the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center in Bakersfield to secure funding for the medication, and got the manufacturer to donate it.
Said Wallace, "It's out there. You just have to know where to go and to ask."
Since starting the foundation, Wallace said he has seen a startling trend in the number of diagnoses in local folks, particularly in younger patients.
"They seem to be increasing — male, female, colon, rectal, lung, pancreas — younger and younger," Wallace said.