Paying the way when cancer strikes

Marci Gore • Feb 6, 2014 at 9:05 AM

When one of Katherine Bailey Koltowski’s co-workers was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 35, Koltowski wanted to do something to help out her colleague.

At the time, Koltowski was living and working in New Jersey.

“Suzanne and I worked together. She got married, bought a house, had a baby and two days later, they told her she had terminal cancer,” Koltowski said. “She was the sole supporter of the family because her husband was a student. This was a total loss of income for them. We called around to all the big associations, looking for some help for them. But nobody really helps the patient. All the money goes to research. I found this infuriating. So, I decided I wanted to do a fund-raiser. But most people don’t know if you do a fund-raiser and give someone the money, they have to claim it [on their taxes]. But, if you run the money through a charity and give it to them, they don’t have to claim it.”

Koltowski said she contacted an attorney to find out how to set up a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. “I got all the IRS papers and got approval,” she said.

In 2005, Friends of Suzanne was founded.

“And although we’re small. I can raise money and just give it to people,” she said.

After Suzanne died, Koltowski’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and Koltowski says it was then that she really began to realize the financial burden that cancer treatments placed upon people.

“I had to take her every day for radiation,” she said. “I would sit in the lobby and she would go in and I would take her back home. I realized the same people were coming in day after day after day. And every time they walked in the door, they had a co-pay. Some had $5. Some had $20. One person had a $90 co-pay. I made good money up in New Jersey, but I didn’t have $450 a week to pay co-pays like that.”

Koltowski said she asked the hospital if the money was raised, could she hold a Pay Their Way Day where Friends of Suzanne would pick up the tab for the patients’ co-pays for the day.

To date, the organization has raised more than $60,000 and helped more than 500 patients in New Jersey, since it first began nearly nine years ago.

But now, Koltowski, who has since relocated to Kingsport to care for her mother, wants to expand Friends of Suzanne, to the Tri-Cities area.

“I would love to be able to do a Pay Their Way Day at least once a month at a facility somewhere in the Tri-Cities. I know so many people in this area could benefit from it. There are so many people out of work or on disability or low-income. I want to help,” she said. “People are sometimes astounded at the expenses. And it’s not just the co-pays. You’ve got your gas driving back and forth, your food. And sometimes you’re there for eight hours receiving treatment. You just don’t think about all those little things and how quickly that can add up. I want to help.”

But Koltowski says she can’t do it alone. She hopes to get the word out to folks in the Tri-Cities about what Friends of Suzanne is and what it does and she needs volunteers and board members. She hopes to hold a fund-raiser in the spring, perhaps a walkathon.

“We usually try to get at least $1,500 to do a Pay Their Way Day. That will usually cover one day,” Koltowski said.

For more information on Friends of Suzanne, or to find out how you can help, you can visit www.friendsofsuzanne.com call (423) 967-2814 or email info@friendsofsuzanne.com or kathyk@friendsofsuzanne.com.

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