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OHSU Knight Cancer Institute's Community Partnership Program focuses on funding for underserved communities

Since 2014, the Community Partnership Program has invested more than $6.4 million in 183 projects across the state of Oregon.

BEND, Ore. — Making an impact on the health of communities across Oregon — that’s the mission of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute's Community Partnership Program (CPP). It is focused on funding programs that increase cancer awareness, screenings and overall health in underserved communities.

“To work hand-in-hand with the Oregon community as allies with the Knight Cancer Institute’s efforts to end cancer as we know,” Community Outreach Specialist Blanca Cisneros said.

In the past nine years, the Knight Cancer Institute CPP has invested more than $6.4 million in 183 projects around the state. That’s funding that goes to local non-profits that work in their communities to make a positive change.

“When they’re applying, they’re the ones that identify their cancer needs and they’re able to create their own projects,” Cisneros said. “They’re the ones who are experts within their communities.”

St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church: empowering community health beyond their congregation 

“We want to, not just feed people spiritually, but we want to be able to take care of their minds, their bodies; receiving everything we need to live a healthy life,” First Lady of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Angela Brown said.

The church, based in North Portland, created a community cancer awareness and healthy living symposium several years ago. It connected uninsured and underinsured Black women and men to cancer health education and support resources in the Portland metro area.  

“It has allowed us to extend our reach,” Brown said.

Black people have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group in the United States for most cancers. For example, black women are 41% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, despite a lower incidence of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

“People of Color tend to take care of other folks a lot. So, when it comes to taking care of ourselves, we’re the last resort,” Sharetta Watson said.

Watson is the program manager with St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church. She works together with community members, helping facilitate these programs and supporting others through their health journey.

“I think that what tends to happen sometimes is there’s a lot of fear around their health because they waited so long to get the help that they need,” Watson said.

Watson said she can relate to that sentiment. 

In November 2012, doctors found a lump, but she said she put off dealing with it for months.

“Who has time? It’s November. Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday — all these things are happening. So it wasn’t until after February when things died down that I said, ‘oh I better go get that checked out’. By that time I went in, I had breast cancer,” Watson said. “I didn’t have time for it — It made time.”

Now, cancer-free, Watson wants to be there for the people in her community. She said she can see the impact of the church’s health initiatives in their congregation and beyond.

“What we do in this program is try to recognize all of that, not to beat nobody down about it, but to say, ‘hey, we’re here,’” she said.

“We are able to do a lot of things in our community, especially with the African American community to change the way we cook, to change the way we think; our attitudes about healthy living, about exercising and just eating right,” Lady Brown said. “It’s okay that we don’t know, but here are the resources, here at the tools that we can get healthier, that we can live longer.”

Thadd’s Place: expanding access to grief and cancer support in Grant County

“Grief is really misunderstood in our community,” Social Worker and Thadd’ Place Bereavement Coordinator Michelle Gibson said. 

“It can be pretty catastrophic to lose somebody you love it. It turns your life upside down and so having resources to help you navigate that as well as somebody walking alongside you is really valuable.”

Thadd’s Place in John Day, Oregon is a non-profit that connects people who are experiencing the loss of a loved one through emotional support, access to education, and space for healing in a supportive community.  

It was created in honor of Thaddeus Cowan Thompson, who worked, lived, and loved Grant County.

At the end of his battle with cancer, he made his family promise to get support to deal with their grief. Through that promise, they created Thadd’s Place.

“That was a big part of their healing journey, and the second thing was finding a way to keep that legacy alive, right, keeping his value system and the things that he cared about alive,” Gibson said.  

The funding they’ve received has helped develop programs to support cancer patients and families.

“Which just really solidified and made it possible financially to continue our grief center and to provide financial support to those in our community that have cancer,” Board Member Sylvia Ross said. “So things like gas cards and food cards and just helping out financially as well as the support we were we would have never been able to do that.”

Through the support of the Knight Cancer Institute CPP, Thadd’s Place has been able to expand its reach and provide a safe space for healing.  

“Our slogan is that no one grieves alone and with the cancer side, it's no one fights alone. Just so that people don't have to go on any part of their journey by themselves,” Ross said.

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