Leona Elko would tell you, to beat cancer, you’ve gotta fix your eyes on the sunny side.
The 42-year-old mail carrier from Nanticoke was diagnosed with breast cancer in March and, since then, has plowed through waves of struggles to where she is now, going for radiation treatments daily at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.
“My life did a complete 180 … everything’s a challenge,” Elko said. “I keep my spirits up and try to get through it.”
The mother of two expects she’ll be able to return to work in about a year. She is grateful for health insurance through the U.S. Postal Service, but she said the cancer touches every part of her life; not just her body. It wreaks havoc on her emotions and her wallet.
Lisa Atkinson, a close friend who managed a fundraising event for Elko, connected her with Danielle Cavanaugh and the Think Pink Foundation. Cavanaugh, a cancer survivor, started the foundation with three friends to help women with cancer pay medical bills, buy groceries and gasoline, and cover daily expenses.
Elko, the foundation’s first candidate, received money for due bills and to reimburse past bills.
“Whatever I had paid, they refunded that. They said, ‘No, that’s yours. Pay your rent or whatever you need to pay.’ I was so grateful,” Elko said.
The Think Pink group used to be a running team that worked toward the Relay for Life each year in Mountain Top, raising money for cancer patients around the country.
“We ended up being the top fundraising team. I think our final year of the relay we definitely raised over $20,000,” Cavanaugh said.
But they wanted to see the money yield immediate results for women in Luzerne County. They realized they had raised a sizable pot of cash in only a few years but never saw it help someone directly.
“When we did the math, we found we had raised more than $70,000 in four years,” Davis said. “That’s a lot that we cannot account for.”
So they hung up their running shoes and gained non-profit status at the beginning of the year.
Elko’s response confirmed the women are on the right track, Cavanaugh said. After receiving a check in the mail, Elko called in tears, thanking them for the money.
“It made us feel like, oh my God, all of this is worth it just for that one phone call,” Cavanaugh said.
The foundation uses Cavanaugh’s experiences with the illness to determine base needs for cancer patients. It wants to help women wherever there’s need, even paying for extra help around the house, she said.
“Cleaning, gas cards, grocery bills. That’s what we wanted. … We want people to realize we’re not just raising money. We want to be able to get (the money) out now,” Cavanaugh said.