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Nonprofit group aims to help W.Va. cancer patients

Kenny Kemp
Brett Wilson, of Charleston, is the founder of Walking Miracles.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Brett Wilson was 2 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia, his first bout with cancer.

At 9, he was diagnosed again, this time in the form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"In my particular case, it was like going to work," the Charleston native said of his cancer treatments. "It's just what you had to do. You're not thinking about dying, you're just thinking about going to treatment."

Now Wilson, 40, wants to use his experience with the life-threatening disease to help others going through what he did.

Wilson is the founder of Walking Miracles.org, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide support services, counseling and outreach education to cancer patients and their families in West Virginia. The organization will be run out of an incubator at the Charleston Area Alliance.

"There's a misnomer that you have to do it alone," Wilson said. "I know for some it's private, but on the other hand we should reach and out and get them the help they need."

The name of the organization originated with Wilson's now 92-year-old grandmother, who first called him a walking miracle for surviving cancer.

"That's what people have called me all my life for overcoming my cancer," he said.

Wilson remembers his childhood cancer experiences as being challenging not only for him, but also for his family. His parents were schoolteachers who had health insurance, but the costs were probably still high, he said.

A "heavy" child, Wilson said between missing school for treatments and losing his hair he struggled to fit in at times.

Wilson's cousin, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, was one of the few people who understood.

"I could actually talk to Nancy about what was going on," Wilson said. "I couldn't really do that with my parents."

Wilson's goal is that Walking Miracles help cancer patients by connecting them to resources in their own community throughout the state. He also wants to connect patients to counseling services. He eventually wants the organization to hire a licensed social worker who can help patients with insurance questions and other issues.

Wilson also wants the organization to help patients with survivorship issues. For instance, informing cancer patients of the need to have checkups following their cancer treatments.

"If they've finished a round of treatments, most people think when they're done with chemo they're done, they're healed," Wilson said. "The problem is if they don't go back [for checkups], it can spread and come back."

He also wants to inform patients of the long-term effects of cancer that can be caused by chemotherapy. Those include what the American Cancer Society and others call "chemo brain," a mental cloudiness that patients sometimes experience during and after treatment.

The ACS describes the symptoms as trouble remembering details, being disorganized and taking longer to finish things than usual.

In children, these symptoms can be similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Wilson said.

"People have to be informed it could be different issues," Wilson said. 

Wilson's still fundraising for Walking Miracles. He's raised $25,000 and is hoping to meet his goal of $75,000.

He's also looking for volunteers for the organization, in particular those who've had a personal experience with the disease; either by surviving the disease themselves or having a loved one go through it. 

"We could always use that and we're going to be able to train people on what to do and not to do," Wilson said.

Wilson plans to host a fundraiser Dec. 21 at the Clay Center. The event is for children with cancer who are newly diagnosed up to three years out of treatment. Build-a-Bear is donating stuffed animals for the children. People may drop by between 7 and 9 p.m. to donate.

For information, visit, www.walkingmiracles.org.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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