Merlene Davis: Cancer patient inspired a football team and an entire region

Cancer patient inspired a football team and an entire region

Herald-Leader columnistOctober 1, 2012 

  • How you can help

    To donate to the Freear's Hope Foundation, which benefits cancer patients at the nine Commonwealth Cancer Centers, visit one of the clinics or send a donation to Commonwealth Cancer Center, in care of Freear's Hope, 520 Techwood Drive, Suite 100, Danville, Ky. 40422.

    To buy a "Rebels with a Cause" T-shirt, call Boyle County High School at (859) 236- 5047.

Sometimes the good will of one person can move an entire region to do good works. Mary Freear Williams is an example of that.

Several years ago, Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer and received treatments at the Commonwealth Cancer Center in Danville. During each visit, she would quickly be surrounded by other patients and medical personnel drawn to her caring nature.

On most visits, she would bring freshly cut flowers from her farm and a special blend of tea from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas, where she had worked before and during her illness. Elmwood owners named the blend Freear's Hope, and it has been served at the Celebration of Hope, an annual tea hosted by Jane Beshear and wives of other Kentucky governors to honor cancer survivors.

The tea and Williams' compassionate spirit inspired the creation of a foundation that now touches the sick and well alike, bringing comfort to both, just as Williams would have done.

Revenue from the sale of the tea was developed into Freear's Hope Foundation, a charitable foundation that helps patients of the network of Commonwealth Cancer Centers and their families with expenses that aren't covered by medical insurance.

"We don't restrict what they ask money for," said Amber Ashford, a social worker for the centers. "Food, rent and utilities are the biggest requests.

"We also help with prescriptions and co-pays and with insurance premiums."

The need for help was so great that Cancer Centers established the foundation to give Elmwood Inn a hand.

Money generated by the sale of the tea is combined with funding from other private sources and fund-raising efforts, said Mark Allen, the practice administrator for Commonwealth Cancer Centers. One such effort is T-shirt sales promoted by the Boyle County High School football team.

"It is their community project, and it started in April," said Debbie Sebastian, treasurer of the Boyle County football booster club. "The boys made posters, went on radio talk shows and sold T-shirts throughout the summer. At the last October game, they will present a check to the foundation from the proceeds of the T-shirts."

The high school's mascot is a rebel. The T-shirts read, "Rebels with a cause," and the 'i' in 'with' is a pink ribbon.

Several of the team members have family and friends who have been affected by cancer, Sebastian said. "The boys knew this money would stay local."

Efforts at other center clinics include sales of homemade items, bowl-athons, yard sales, memorial donations and cancer awareness bracelets.

"They have been really active in Frankfort," said Amy Wise, the centers' director of communication.

The money raised is made available for patients at the centers in Barbourville, Columbia, Corbin, Frankfort, Harrodsburg, London, Russell Springs, Somerset and Danville, Allen said. Nearly 20 patients have been helped in the year that the foundation has been established.

Patients can get an application at either of the centers' clinics, fill out the application and mail it in.

"It is reviewed by a panel that looks at various things," Wise said, "such as funding from other sources, income and other things. They try to look at applications within a week, because typically it is an immediate need."

And it started with one person having a generous and compassionate spirit for others.

Freear Williams died in January 2009, but many people would argue that her spirit thrives through a lot of other people, some of whom she never met.

And that is as it should be for all of us.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog:

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