CUYAHOGA FALLS – A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating, but stress and worry over the mounting bills does not have to be a barricade to recovery.

The Falls Cancer Club Inc. is a non-profit organization run by volunteers with a mission to help cancer patients who live in Cuyahoga Falls by helping to pay their prescription, doctor, hospital and lab bills.

To qualify for support, the person must have cancer and be a resident of Cuyahoga Falls, said Bonnie Severt, former president and club member for 32 years.

The Falls Cancer Club can help with prescriptions, equipment, medical bills or provide someone to talk to, Severt said. Only current bills are covered beginning after the patient calls the club.

“They need to call us when they're diagnosed,” Severt said. “We want to help them.”

Not all bills are paid in full by the club, but payments are made to help with expenses, and hospitals work with the club, sometimes reducing the bill, she said.

“We want them to focus on getting better,” Severt said.

The patient's information is kept confidential, said Melinda Dull, a member for six years and a cancer survivor. The person is assigned a number and only a few key people know their identity.

“All patients go by a number and no names or information is shared,” Dull said. “It's all private.”

Currently there are 70 active members and eight associate members with 75 patients registered with the club.

One of 17 visitors works directly with the registered patients, Dull said. A visitor sees one to six patients, accesses their needs and collects bills that are brought to the monthly meetings where active members vote on payments.

Last month, members agreed to pay $6,000, in addition to $11,000 from the previous month, Dull said.

“The club covers all ages of cancer patients,” Severt said. “The majority is breast cancer then liver, skin, lung and other cancers.”

Mayor Don Walters recognized the Falls Cancer Club on Monday for 70 years of helping neighbors in need with the Honorary Boulevard Award. The club name will appear on a sign at Broad Boulevard and Third Street. A proclamation is also scheduled for the club's anniversary dinner Wednesday.

“I love the sign,” said club President Cozy Richard. “It looks great and I’m very proud of it.”

The club is all volunteers and they work hard, Richard said. 

“The more money we raise, the more bills we can pay,” she said.

The club is unique in that it pays bills, Dull said. 

“We relieve the financial needs and take the stress of the financial aspect off their shoulders so they can concentrate on getting well,” she said. 

The Falls Cancer Club has helped 1,250 patients since its inception, Dull said.

The club is not affiliated with any other organization, and the money to pay the bills is raised through several fundraisers throughout the year, including the Battle of the Badges March 16, a Reverse Raffle April 14, a Card Party June 8, a car show in the summer, Night at the Races Oct. 20 and Cookie Walk Dec. 8.

The Battle of the Badges is a family event where the Cuyahoga Falls police play basketball against the Cuyahoga Falls Fire Department at the Cuyahoga Falls High School from 7 to 9:30 p.m. March 16. The admission goes toward helping cancer patients.

“This is the seventh year for Battle of the Badges, Severt said. The event has raised $24,000 in the past six years, and all the money goes toward patients' needs.”

The club has help from many others in Cuyahoga Falls. The Church in the Falls, 837 Chestnut Blvd., provides space for monthly meetings on the first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. Meetings are open to the public and new members are welcome.

The First Christian Church, 2253 Third St., provides storage space for items used in fundraisers like tablecloths, plates, signs and more.

Clifford Funeral Home allows them to store medical equipment like wheelchairs, walkers and toilet chairs for patients.

Kleins Pharmacy is another partner and many more are anonymous supporters of the Falls Cancer Club, Severt said.

Dull said they hope larger businesses in Cuyahoga Falls will offer support like Western Reserve Hospital, which sponsors fundraisers for them.

Drug Mart invites them to their Hot Dog Roast in August, and they sell bake goods to raise funds.

“It boggles my mind how many people want to help,” Severt said. “It's very heartwarming and shows how close this community is.”

The concept for the club founded in March 1948 began when three ladies found out a neighbor had cancer, Severt said.

“It was a death sentence then,” she said. “They took her supper and made bandages.”

From that simple beginning, the concept of a neighbor helping a neighbor continues. To donate, become a member or for more information, call 330-929-2796.

Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or lfreeman@recordpub.com