The Cancer WHO? nonprofit organization opened their first ever space, the Cares Center, designed to be a safe haven for patients and families battling the disease, this weekend. Hundreds of clients, supporters, doctors and sponsors celebrated the opening at a welcome mixer and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday and Sunday.
“This is our dream,” said Marjani Harris, Cancer WHO? Co-founder. “It’s more people we can support. We can bring all the families we support together and run our programs out of it.”
Since 2013, Cancer WHO? has supported patients and their families with a range of efforts - from accompanying them on chemotherapy, radiation and doctor’s visits, to helping secure financial resources and organizing outings, such as spa days or sporting events. They’re anchored in Philadelphia but they’ve helped more than 200 families across the country, in Georgia, California, Florida, Las Vegas, Maryland, New York and Oregon.
Marjani and her husband, Cancer WHO? Co-founder Al Harris, said the Center will be a place for patients and their families to have a sense of normalcy as they go through all the medical, social and familial difficulties that come with the disease.
“To have this center, it means we will have a place where we run our programs. Our kids and families can come together and know exactly what we are going to be doing, when we are going to be doing it,” said Marjani. “To have a home base, it means everything to us.”
Al agreed, stating that he envisioned they would open a space years ago when they founded the organization.
“I swear I saw this. It was like a dream come true when we go it,” he said. “But I saw it three or four years ago.”
The Center will offer support group meetings, prevention classes, a licensed counselor, massage therapy, yoga, and family nights, especially for the youth.
One particular center highlight is the Delores King Educational Program, named for Marjani’s grandmother - a reputed Philadelphia educator who was known to never miss a day of work in her 45-year career with the district. King died of brain cancer last year. The program named in her honor will “provide tutoring to children with cancer in an effort to help balance treatment and academics.”
“This is the start of trying to change the stories I'm hearing [patients] go through,” said Al. “It’s not just the hospital, it’s not just them going through cancer specifically, it’s their entire family and that’s what people don't see. It’s a lot behind the backstory.”
Dr. Monique Gary, an oncology surgeon and Director of the Cancer program for the Penn Cancer Network (Grand View Health), spoke at the welcome mixer on Saturday and said the Cancer WHO? Cares center is the only one she knows of its kind. She discovered the organization after reading an article on their work and volunteered to help.
“There is nothing like this for our people. This had to happen for us to be on the offense and reach out into this community because we are dying,” she said. This is our time for us to begin to do some repair to what has been done to us.”
The Cancer WHO? Cares Center is located at 3400 Richmond St.