On the third floor, high above the rest of the Beebe Medical Arts Building in back of the Tunnell Cancer Center off Route 24, is an oasis in the form of the nonprofit Cancer Support Community Delaware’s Sussex County office.
Inside are offices, meeting rooms, even a kitchen. “We are here to help people know that, in battling cancer, they are not alone,” said Kathryn “Kate” McKenzie, as of March the CEO and president of the CSC-DE which includes New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties. She is a resident of Rehoboth Beach.
“In addition to patients, their families and friends are also welcome here where services and programs are concerned,” she said. “All services are free.”
Offerings such as educational programs led by physicians, lawyers, insurance specialists and others are held there. So are stress reduction and nutrition classes, networking and support groups. “We have everything from men’s yoga classes to cooking classes led by a local chef, and Zumba and Tai Chi exercise classes,” McKenzie said. “All support groups are professionally run.”
Funding comes from corporations, foundations, state government, special events, personal donations and other sources. For example, the offices, under McKenzie’s direction, develop and run fundraising events such as the successful 10K and 5K Sussex County runs held in August and sponsored by the Greene Turtle restaurant.
Wings of Hope…A Butterfly Release is another special event we do to honor those whose lives have been touched by cancer,” said McKenzie. “People purchase butterfly paper cutouts for $10 each or live butterflies at $30 each ($40 at the event). The event will be held on the grounds of the Tunnell Cancer Center Saturday, Sept. 14 (rain date is Sept. 15). The sale of butterflies began Aug. 14.
The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and includes fun activities, entertainment and refreshments. A spectacular release of 250 monarch butterflies at the end of the event will take place in a butterfly garden created by Sposato Landscaping.
Another popular event is A Pink Affair To Remember, held at the Rehoboth Beach Country Club during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The date this year for the event with its luncheon, fashion show and sales of accessories is Friday, Oct. 18.
McKenzie spends several days a week at each of the three county offices, working with a director and board at each location, looking for sources of income, and being a part of program development and publicity. In Sussex County, the director is Jo Allegro-Smith, who runs the office and is responsible for all services in Sussex County.
McKenzie started her career as an operating room nurse and then went on to be a clinical supervisor at a hospital in New Jersey in the 1980s.
She then undertook a high-level cancer treatment position in Wilmington, where she was program leader of the statewide mammography program of Christiana Care Health Services and, with the staff there, developed a mammography mobile unit.
In 2001, McKenzie became a senior manager for corporate affairs for AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals in Wilmington. She developed and led relationships among the company, oncology teams and others that included programming, partnership, media outreach and other leadership duties.
In 2011, she took a Delaware field representative position with the Philadelphia affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. As a liaison person from to the regional office, she was charged with program development, legislative advocacy and many other breast cancer initiatives.
In her current position, McKenzie gives leadership to the CSC board of directors and committees, works on responsibility and accountability for the staff, program development, fundraising, administration, planning and finance, along with public relations.
McKenzie sees that Delaware and national cancer care and treatment are changing. “We see changes such as earlier detection, new and improved surgical techniques, and new drugs. The Tunnell Cancer Center is a good partner for us,” she said.
“Delaware’s cancer incidence is slightly higher than the reported U.S. rate,” said McKenzie. “And, Sussex County incidence is 27.8 percent of the state’s total. The good news is that Delaware’s cancer mortality rate has declined from second in the country to 14th.”