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Stories: Northwest Hope & Healing

A community rallying around women with cancer

Cancer is challenging enough on its own. For patients struggling to pay everyday expenses while balancing the cost of their medical care, it can compound an already stressful experience.

“Nobody chooses to get cancer,” says Karyn Blasi Hellar, executive director of Northwest Hope & Healing (NWHH) since 2017. “It’s not fair.” She’s heard from women who have lost their jobs and insurance, gone through divorces and even given birth, all while fighting cancer.

That’s why she’s passionate about providing financial relief and support through NWHH for patients undergoing treatment for their breast and gynecological cancers at the Swedish Cancer Institute.

Founded in 2000, NWHH has raised more than $1.5 million dollars in the past 20 years to support our Patient Assistance Fund which provides grants to patients in need. Not only that, they also donate comforting items like scarves, tea and comfy slippers which NWHH volunteers assemble into Healing Gift Boxes.

For many NWHH volunteers, the work is personal. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in Washington, and survivors and relatives make up the majority of NWHH’s volunteer force. Whether it’s assembling Healing Gift Boxes or helping at events, they’re supporting women through the financial challenges a cancer diagnosis can bring.

For some patients, the list of worries can feel endless, but a patient assistance grant made possible through NWHH can help cross off one thing, like groceries, utility bills, childcare or parking expenses for frequent hospital visits.

And the benefits go beyond the financial. While the average Patient Assistance Fund grant of $500 won’t solve every problem, just knowing that others care can be a comfort to women during their treatment. “It’s the small acts of kindness that make a big difference to these patients,” says Karyn.

Karyn brings 15 years of experience in breast cancer administration to this role, including managing breast imaging at Swedish where she saw first-hand the impact that cancer could have on patients. She also has an MBA, so she’s uniting her passion for women’s health with her business know-how. As NWHH’s only full-time employee, she’s determined to minimize costs wherever she can, including by working out of her home, rather than renting office space. Her goal is to make every donation and volunteer hour count.

“It’s amazing to see how kind and generous people can be,” she says. “I’m inspired by our community every day.” And thanks to the NWHH community, more than 400 women in the last year alone received help.