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Family Support

Elizabeth Barnes started Hope Abounds when cancer hit close to home

Look out cancer. Mother warrior, Elizabeth Barnes, is on your trail.

Sparked by their daughter Kelly’s diagnosis of breast cancer at age thirty-two, Barnes and husband, Kenny, dashed in to establish support systems, filing the gaps they saw in their family’s journey.

Their daughter was teaching in Atlanta when she received the original diagnosis of stage 0 cancer. By the time her doctor did her surgery here in Wilmington three weeks later, the cancer had metastasized, reaching stage 3A.

Elizabeth Barnes witnessed the support of her daughter’s friends and co-workers, and she noticed the events that left the family unprepared.

“We had no cancer in our family,” she says.  “We were totally ignorant as to what happened to people. The infusion room, cold, patients sitting in a recliner for four to six hours. Unless you have really close friends who can handle it they don’t say anything. It’s lonely.”

And while they were told to bring a blanket, CDs, a book, and lunch, they weren’t told about the metal taste in the mouth, the canned foods she would have to eat, or the flushing that travels from one part of the body to the other following chemo therapy, Elizabeth Barnes recalls.

The situation set the Barnes in motion, establishing a nonprofit group, originally called Women of Hope, to support cancer patients and their families. Established in 2010, the Wilmington-based organization now has two branches under the Hope Abounds Inc. umbrella: Women of Hope and A Kids Hope, added last year. The organization has multiple programs, its own production company for education, and a number of fundraising events.

The goal is to support patients from diagnosis to survivorship with emotional, financial, physical, and educational efforts. Hope Abounds focuses on all cancer patients, not only those with breast cancer, serving Eastern North Carolina and Northeastern South Carolina across seventy-four counties.

Women of Hope offers a hope bag for women during treatment that includes a blanket, pillow, journals, and other items. In addition, there are several programs in place (see box below).

A Kids Hope, last year’s newcomer, currently serves forty children and teens referred by pediatric oncologist Stuart Gold in Chapel Hill.

“For pediatrics, we provide the hope bag for the mom,” Elizabeth Barnes says. “Ninety percent of the time it’s the mom taking the child to Duke or Chapel Hill (hospitals). We’re giving her a mattress, bedding, hygiene supplies, meal cards, gas cards. The child is taken care of through hospital and volunteer programs. Dad – we help him pull together a group of family and friends who will help him with meals, carpool, activity transportation, permission slips, lunches.”

“We’re trying to keep the family intact,” she says.

Sometimes a child thinks he or she has done something wrong; mom is gone, and the other children need to understand what’s happening, Elizabeth Barnes explains.

“We want them to understand what their sibling is going through and make them feel special in some way. When the patient comes back to Wilmington, he/she may or may not go back to school. And the child does not look the same,” she says.

The added impact that the child looks and sounds different has a huge emotional bearing on the child, as well as friends and family.

“We want to set up a camera in the classroom so they can follow the child during treatment,” Elizabeth Barnes says. “The social worker has been great about talking to the kids in the classroom to let them know what to expect. When the child can return to Wilmington, they go to the Nunnelee (Pediatric Specialty Clinics at NHRMC), and Dr. Gold comes in every third Monday to do checkups and they get their bloodwork here. We work closely with them at the clinic.”

In an effort to increase awareness and raise funding, Hope Abounds’ website brims with contact information, education, and events. Cancer prevention via nutrition and genetic awareness is part of the organization’s platform. The site contains articles written by professionals and survivors, as well as a genetic marker inventory covering three generations.

“Over the last three to six years, the women (patients) have gotten younger and younger. Education is vital,” Elizabeth Barnes says. And the program attracts collaborators.

Myriad Genetic Laboratories gave Hope Abounds a grant to start a production company for educational purposes.

Fifty dedicated volunteers work in teams on specific events each year, joining five volunteer staff members and only three paid staff, according to Elizabeth Barnes. The organization carefully screens volunteers due to the personal nature of information they see. And background checks are done for those involved with kids.

In 2015, Paxton Webster chose Hope Abounds as a senior project because she had volunteered with them. She engineered a program, Stepping into Your Genes, which is a partnership between parents and young persons. At the college level, it was introduced on parent weekend.

“It could save the lives of parents and their college student,” Elizabeth Barnes says. The idea is that they review the generational history and by Thanksgiving they could talk about hereditary possibilities.

“When you know if you are a candidate for genetic testing, it puts you in control,” she says.

The organization also challenges physicians to make this part of their circle of care – to ask if anyone in the family has been diagnosed or died recently. If it was cancer, what kind of cancer?

Elizabeth Barnes says the organization likes to walk hand-in-hand with patients but not do everything for them unless they just can’t. Survivors are encouraged to put pride away and apply for community resources.

“All we want to see is for them to live a full productive life on the other side of it. They can call us if they need it. But most often they come back as volunteers,” she says. “Start with the end in mind, that’s how we’ve been able to do so many things.”




East Coast Shag Classic: Summer Chill Nights Fundraiser – Topsail Moose Lodge, July 29, 7- 11 p.m.

Fourth annual Diamonds & Champagne Hope Ball Fundraising Event – Black-tie gala with dinner and dancing, Hilton Riverside Hotel, August 20, 6-11 p.m.

Racing for the Gold Race Day – Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park, September 24, 9 a.m.-noon, with a Victory Celebration to follow at 7 p.m. at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside

Woman in the Mirror – November 5

Info: hopeabounds.org



To view more of photographer Chris Brehmer's work, go to www.chrisbrehmerphotography.com



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