By Leslie Kelly
The Central Kitsap Reporter
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And for most of that time, ViviAnn Parnell was at her side, making sure that Sutton had a way to get to her treatments at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.
Parnell, a Kingston-area resident, smiles as she recalls memories of her friend.
Sutton died in April 2004 of breast cancer.
And the other women gathered around Parnell's dining room table, too, smile at the memory of Sutton, even though some of them never met her.
But the memory of Sutton is what brings them together and has kept Sutton's work living on past her death.
Together, these women make up the Kathleen Sutton Inspirational Fund.
As a nonprofit, the fund helps provide travel expenses for women who are suffering from breast, ovarian and cervical cancer so they can get to and from their treatments and doctors appointments.
“It seems impossible, but we have women right here in our communities who give up on getting treatment, not because they can't afford the treatment but because they don't have the money to fill their car with gas and take the ferry to their chemo appointment,” said Parnell.
“For some women, it can be as much as $100 a trip, and they have to make 20, 30 or 40 trips over the course of their treatment.”
When Sutton was making trips to her treatments, Swedish was one of the only places around to get the kind of chemotherapy she needed.
Jefferson, Clallam patients
Now, treatments are available at the Olympic Medical Cancer Center in Sequim and on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Still, some patients need help, Parnell said.
The organization helps women in Jefferson, Clallam, Kitsap and Mason counties.
Since its beginning 10 years ago, they've given more than $250,000 to women in need of help with transportation.
They've helped more than 600 women, and last year alone, they gave $35,411 in aid.
The women work through local oncologists and through area hospitals, oftentimes telling the patient navigators about what the organization does.
“We do get referrals, too,”said Parnell.
“We will help any woman who comes to us, and we don't ask a lot of financial questions.
“We just want to be able to provide them with rides to their treatment if needed and funds for the ferry and gas when needed.”
Valerie Rotmark is one of the group's members who knows cancer firsthand.
“I actually had a pretty easy time of it,” she said of her fight against breast cancer.
“So I decided I needed to help other women. I learned about the organization and got in contact with
ViviAnn. I just knew I had to be a part of this organization.”
Another member, Linda Joyce, who is in the midst of fighting cancer, said the women they help come from all over the area.
“There's a need just about anywhere,” she said.
“We see it in Bremerton, Belfair . . . a medical crisis is the great equalizer.”
When the economy took a downturn around 2007, the ladies said they had women come for help who were professionals and owned their own home and car but who had been laid off, had little or no insurance and had no cash to get them to their treatments.
Annual auction Oct. 6
The organization makes most of the money it gives away through its annual auction, which this year will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 6.
It will be held at the Hood Canal Vista Pavilion in Port Gamble.
A $15 ticket includes a beer or glass of wine and hors d'oeuvres.
“Last year, we made $45,000,” said Parnell, noting that the first year, they were happy to have made $5,000.
There is a silent auction, including items such as gift certificates for restaurants and spas, jewelry, artwork and wine.
And the live auction includes overnight stays in Victoria at the Great Wolf Lodge, two tickets anywhere Alaska Airlines flies, a week in a condo in Mexico, wine tours and golf packages.
They are very proud of the fact that they have only a 2 percent overhead and that 98 percent of what they raise goes for direct services for women.
“When we do mailings and make copies, we spend our own money,” Parnell said.
“And all of us are volunteers, and none of us have ever gotten help from the organization,” said Kathy Rayment, a volunteer.
The work is important to the women — but what's even more rewarding are the friends they've made through helping others.
“We've cried with them,” Rotmark said.
She often will take women to treatment herself, as does another member, Rita Osborn, because they both have been through the experience of cancer.
To be a part of the Oct. 6 auction, or for information about the fund's travel grants, visit: http://www.kathleensutton.org/.
At this website you can donate, volunteer or find a contact to buy a ticket to the auction.
Or phone Parnell at 360-620-3259.
Reporter Leslie Kelly can be reached at lkelly@sound publishing.com. The Central Kitsap Reporter is a sister newspaper of the Peninsula Daily News.