One word…just one word compels a response that cuts through all differences in background, socio-economic status, occupation race, religion, or any other potential divide. That word is cancer. It’s a leveling with sudden vulnerability prompting unlikely and unexpected connection with others who share the same diagnosis. Ron Willard, a prominent local leader and philanthropist, knows well the flood of thoughts that rush in when a doctor delivers test results. Ron shares, “hearing a cancer diagnosis – it hits hard”. Life recalibrates and mindfulness of each moment and each decision looms large. Those who have received a diagnosis can far better articulate the acute change in perspective, yet it is likely that every person reading this has been touched by cancer’s indiscriminate reach – among family friends, neighbors, and colleagues. While national commercials and ads show a host of smiling patients and practitioners, it is important not to underestimate the emotional, social, and financial impacts that require a ready, knowledgeable, local, and personal touch.

Cancer Services, a remarkable organization, has been the local touch point for the past 65 years, helping cancer patients and families navigate through the most frightening diagnosis delivered.  Ron knows first-hand the incredible comfort, thoughtful care, and support of the experienced staff and volunteers of Cancer Services. They’ve provided his family with practical information and guidance through every step and turn.  Ron calls working through cancer a “journey”. “Cancer Services is a partner in your journey,” Ron reflects. “It can be lonely and with Cancer Services, you are never alone.” He credits Cancer Services with an easier journey during his wife’s illness and then, years later, his own diagnosis.  It moved him deeply when executive director, Tara O’Brien, put her arm around him and said “it’s going to be ok”. Ron shares further, “When you are going through cancer, you struggle both mentally and physically and they take care of both. They can help with nutrition, support groups, and on and on.  And while I was fortunate, most people desperately need financial help – especially with medication costs. Cancer Services doesn’t just help patients, they help the family. If the family doesn’t have rent, food, or transportation, Cancer Services is there with help. It’s more than health, life, survivorship, which is its mission. It helps all those in close relationship with the cancer patient. If you are a caretaker, that’s the hardest job anyone will ever do. You need support.  Cancer Services was a partner through the journey of losing my wife and partner.   Other organizations are great…they provide a service. But other organizations don’t come to your house when you have cancer. Cancer Services comes to your house! It’s a big difference.”

Cancer Services also provides a peer support network. For Ron “people know that I have had cancer and reach out. Those with cancer understand the journey, the process, and the information we learn along the way and they want to learn from your experience.  Once you are part of the cancer family, people share with you. It’s not a family you want to be part of, but you are.”  After an 18-year relationship with Cancer Services, Ron serves as an advisor to others with cancer. He’s also a benefactor and this year is serving as President of its board of directors. “I’m involved with other organizations, but my passion is around Cancer Services. Since I’ve had cancer, I’ve seen first-hand what other people are going through on the journey.  And Cancer Services is still a partner because I’m just in remission. I still have the disease…and I know I’m not alone.”

Sustaining such comprehensive local support has required growing financial resources. While highly efficient in operations (93% of all contributions go to direct services), the number of people needing help has grown with cancer’s increased prevalence as the aging population grows. Medical treatment costs have escalated, especially prescription drugs. Thanks to patient advocates, those costs often are drastically reduced.  For every $1 of direct financial support provided, Cancer Services also secures an additional $448 of in-kind financial assistance for patients. Last year Cancer Services assisted 4,538 cancer patients and each year that increases. That’s a remarkable and measurable impact.  Annual contributions struggle to keep pace with needs – even with 65 years of devoted supporters and their annual fundraiser “Wrapped Up in Ribbons”.  Charitable tax laws have changed and with the changes, fewer individuals are contributing to causes in every community.  The future is also unclear as to how monies will be distributed from traditional grant-makers.  Cancer Services is a local, independent organization without a national safety net. They depend completely on local contributions.   Cancer Services needs a reliable income stream – the kind of predictable annual income that an endowment can supply in perpetuity.  

As Cancer Services launches its 65th year, it is also launching a partnership with the Clemmons Community Foundation to start an endowment and build support for its future. The endowment will generate investment earnings every year and reliably provide a portion of the annual support needed. The foundation specializes in establishing and growing endowments, leaving Cancer Services to focus on what it does flawlessly – helping cancer patients and families navigate the journey through cancer with personal care and unwavering support.    Ron is enthusiastic about the relationship. “I know both organizations well and I think the partnership with the Clemmons Community Foundation is awesome. An endowment offers a beautiful way of investing contributions and serving the needs forever. “

To learn more about supporting Cancer Services through a gift or bequest to its endowment, contact a member of the Foundation staff.




This article also appeared in the January 2, 2020 edition of the Clemmons Courier.