FLORENCE, S.C. — The Cancer Relief Fund at MUSC Health Florence Medical Center will be better able to provide help to cancer patients in the Pee Dee region after receiving a check for $11,601.93 on Tuesday.

The check was made possible through the efforts of the MUSC Health Florence Medical Center Breast Cancer Support Group, known as “Toni’s Tigers.”

In October, the breast cancer survivors support group and MUSC Health Florence Medical Center staff put out nearly 500 pink flamingos on the hospital lawn in memory or honor of cancer patients.

“We wanted to do a fundraiser that would bring awareness to breast cancer,” said Toni McGiboney, cancer patient navigator.

“We rented the flamingoes during the month of October in honor or memory of loved ones with cancer,” McGiboney said.

With the name of the cancer patient attached, the flamingos were placed on the hospital lawn for all to see.

McGiboney said the initial idea was that of hospital COO Kyle Baxter, who had seen it done at another hospital where he worked.

“Our goal was $5,000, McGiboney said.

“That was more than double our goal,” she said.

She said the hospital’s Marion facility also took part in the event.

The funds will provide assistance to cancer patients in the area.

“Our support group is a community group and money goes to cancer patient in the area needing help,” she said. “A need gets presented and it has to be approved by the Cancer Relief Fund Board.”

Funds are limited so every request can’t be filled.

Dr. Ziad Skaff of MUSC Health Florence Medical Center, founder of The Cancer Relief Fund, said it has already helped between 75 and 100 cancer patients with things such as gas to get to and from treatments, wigs for patients who have lost their hair, nausea medicine, hotel stays for treatment, food supplement, and other needs.

“Cancer breaks everyone,” Skaff said.

Not only does cancer take an enormous toll on the health of patients and survivors, but it also has a significant financial effect. Treatments and medications aren’t the only expenses related to the illness.

Skaff said most people given the diagnosis of cancer don’t realize how much it will burden them financially.

He said cancer comes in “many flavors.” In this area, he said, lung cancer and breast cancer are most prevalent.

He said doctors do what they can for patients, but there is so much more that is needed and the contributions to the Cancer Relief Fund are a blessing.

From those who have been helped, Skaff said, he sees a lot of gratitude and tears.

He said getting the Cancer Relief Fund was slow at first. He said there were lots of steps that had to be taken. He said they went knocking on doors of fellow doctors’ offices asking for donations.

“Every cancer patient needs help,” he said.

He said support is needed from the community so that funds will be available to help cancer patients.

The breast cancer support group has helped support cancer survivors in other ways through Relay for Life, Sister Strut and Survivor Galas. They have also sold cookbooks and T-shirts to raise money.

Karen Sellers, a five-year breast cancer survivor and a member of the breast cancer support group, said the group has been an enormous help to her and others. She and Pat Privitera, also a five-year cancer survivor, have made this journey together. Sellers was diagnosed in September and Privitera in October of the same year. A third breast cancer patient, Donna Mahn, who died in June, was also a part of the threesome that worked to bring awareness to breast cancer through the support group.

Privitera said she didn’t have any family to support her during her bout with cancer.

“They treat you like you are their brother or sister here,” she said. “This is my family.”

“We have an amazing leader,” Privitera said of McGiboney.

She said even though they used pink flamingos for the month of October the assistance is for patients with all types of cancer.

“We plan for this to be an annual event for our hospital,” McGiboney said.

The breast cancer support group meets the first Tuesday of each month at 5:30 in Medical Pavilion B. McGiboney said anyone with cancer can attend. It is not limited to breast cancer survivors.

“We invite survivors, spouses and caregivers,” Sellers said.

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