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Not for Profit: Cancer Support V.I.

Aug. 5, 2007 — The smartly attired businesswoman, her black dress contrasting with her shoulder-length blond hair, is poised to talk, but the business Charlene Kehoe talks about is the business of people — specifically people affected by cancer, people she can help.
When Kehoe was interviewed for her job as development and marketing analyst for International Capital and Management in 2005, she got more than she had anticipated — an opportunity to bring to life a vision she had only imagined.
After more than 20 years in advertising, she sought something different. "When Richard Stephenson interviewed me, he told me about his mother's dying from cancer, and what he had done about it,” she says. “I knew this was the place for me."
In the 1980s, following the tragic death of his mother, Stephenson embarked on a mission to find the most advanced and effective treatment available. Disappointed by treatments available for his mother, Stephenson founded Cancer Treatment Centers of America, hospitals that combine the latest medical, surgical and radiological therapies with supportive therapies such as nutrition, mind-body medicine, physical therapy, naturopathy and spiritual health. International Capital and Management provides management services for Cancer Centers of America.
"I told him of my own mother's history," Kehoe says. "She is a five-time cancer survivor. She's 86 now, and doing very well. My father died of prostate cancer several years ago."
Shortly after starting her new job, Kehoe saw an opportunity where she believed she could make a difference locally.
"I told Mr. Stephenson, and he thought it was a fantastic idea," she says. "I talked to the other principals in the company, the CFO and the board of managers, and they were all on board with the idea and backed me right away."
So Kehoe's twofold plan was spawned. Cancer Support V.I., which provides information and education to anyone affected by cancer, and the V.I. Cancer Patient Fund, which provides money for uninsured or under-insured patients. The funds exclude airfare and prescription costs, which are covered by the American Cancer Society.
Kehoe is nothing if not tenacious.
"I'm like a dog with a bone," she says. "I won't give up until I get what I'm after. It's my calling in life, and I get paid for it. Our company is involved in helping others. This is my passion."
And Kehoe knows how to throw a party. She has had two "Divine Celebrations," raising upwards of $200,000. And she knows the "who's who" of the island.
"I got on the phone and I wouldn't take no for an answer," she says, "even at $150 per person."
The parties were held at a lovely Peterborg villa, she says.
"We had a silent auction offering cruises on a private yacht, trips on private jets, spectacular things," she says. With her signature wide smile, Kehoe says, "And it was a divine party."
She followed the first celebration with another earlier this year in the same locale, which raised $28,000.
"This will be double matched by our company and matched again by CTCA," Kehoe says. "The fund is a stop gap as the patient, social workers or family members try to set up the newly diagnosed patient with V.I. medical assistance. Lots of people were falling through the cracks in the early stages of their treatment. We do encourage patients to exhaust all other resources first so that our limited funds can serve as many as possible."
Kehoe has praise for the government's medical-assistance program. In fact, Beverly Plaskett and Monica Frett of the Human Services Department cancer program are lined up to speak in the lecture series, with a date yet to be set.
"The government agencies really do a yeoman's job of helping," Kehoe says. "Often times, initial diagnosing is when the patients really need help. When they are waiting to get into the program, and they are uninsured, it can make or break somebody. For instance, if they come from St. Croix and need housing, we can help with that."
Some of the requests require creative solutions.
"Kimelman called because they had a terminal patient who was in so much pain she couldn't sleep in a bed," Kehoe says. "We called the furniture stores and got a $500 recliner for her."
She now gets referrals from the ACS, the Community Foundation of the V.I., and the Kimelman Center.
"Even in the last couple months, we are working with more community organizations, including the Methodist Outreach Center and Catholic Charities," she says. The fund also works closely with Tracy Sanders of Hospice, Continuum Care.
The now-popular lecture series, part of Cancer Support V.I., covers a broad swath of the community, not just doctors. It meets the first Wednesday of each month from noon to 1 p.m. at the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute auditorium, and in the evening from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Mark C. Marin complex at Antilles School.
After getting the support of her company, "I invited almost every single doctor in the territory to participate in a lecture series, to donate their time,” Kehoe says. “The Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute hadn't opened yet, but I talked to Dr. Shirnett Williamson, director of radiation oncology, Rodney Miller, Schneider Medical Center CEO, Renee Adams, CKCI administrator and Dr. Erol Hodby, who volunteered right off."
While the organization helps with practical needs such as housing, the lecture series gives people valuable insight into diseases.
"We feel this is something we want to offer the community," Kehoe says. "When we had our first meetings with cancer patients, they said what they wanted was more information."
Kehoe has incorporated the CTCA approach in those she asks to speak, which cover nutritionists, naturopaths and yoga instructors.
"This month, we'll just have the evening series because so many people are off island on vacation,” she says. “We can have anywhere between 12 and 45 attend the meetings.”
Virgin Islander and nationally recognized oncologist Dr. Bert Petersen is an upcoming speaker. (See “Cancer Support VI Schedules Monthly Lectures.” )
So far, Kehoe says, the cancer fund has helped between 35 and 40 patients at an outlay of about $40,000. Each patient has a $3,000 cap on assistance. To apply or for more information, call Kehoe at 715-5806.
"I am thrilled by what we have been able to do," she says.
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