Fund helps pay for medication, gas cards, hotel rooms during treatment

Becky Archambault could be dead. Instead, she got to hug a Havelock firefighter.

The Havelock resident credits money raised through the fire department’s Brave Enough to Wear Pink T-shirt sales for helping her beat her cancer.

“It was definitely a lifeline for me,” said Archambault, who moved to Eastern North Carolina two decades ago as the wife of a Cherry Point Harrier pilot.

She thanked firefighters last week at the West End Fire Station for the annual pink T-shirt drive, which raises money the Havelock Fire and Rescue Cancer Care Fund managed by the CarolinaEast Foundation.

“Without it, I would not be talking to you guys right now,” she told them. “I couldn’t have done it without it. I couldn’t have afforded it.”

Archambault learned she had cancer 10 year ago, but didn’t do anything about it.

“My mom had passed from breast cancer in ’84 and I saw the way that she went,” Archambault said. “She was in a lot of pain, and so I decided that I just didn’t want to deal with it and wanted to just let it take its course, kind of like an out-of-sight, out-of-mind kind of thing.

“I never dealt with doctors, didn’t like to go to doctors and I knew there would be a whole process and I just said ‘forget it man.’ If it was my time, it was my time, you know.”

Her pain grew as time went on, but then she watched the birth of her grandchild. That prompted her to seek treatment, but the cost and issues associated with getting to New Bern for that treatment proved difficult. She said the county’s CARTS public transportation system schedule conflicted with her work as a cook at Carolina Pines Golf and Country Club.

That’s when money from the fund allowed Archambault to make her treatment appointments.

“They were giving me gas cards every week and my best friend took me for six weeks straight, five days a week, and that was the only way I was able to do it,” Archambault said. “I had to do 16 weeks of that and then I had a mastectomy and then I had my radiation for 33 treatments, five days a week for six weeks. And now I am just waiting to have a prosthesis put in, hopefully.”

She credits money from the fund for helping her become free from cancer.

“Without them, I would still have cancer. I’d still be at home, depressed and not cancer free. That was my turning point,” Archambault said. “There’s no way that I could have done it without these gas cards. I couldn’t have done it and kept my job at the same time.”

Katherine O’Neill, 62, of Harlowe, was diagnosed with cancer in July of 2014.

“I had cancer in my right breast and I opted to have both breasts removed because I had a pretty strong family history of breast cancer. My mother had it twice,” O’Neill said. “Two of my aunts also had breast cancer.”

The double mastectomy turned out to be a wise decision.

“They told me after surgery that they had found pre-cancerous cells in my left breast as well,” she said.

O’Neill had Medicare, but not Part D, which was mandatory to receive prescription drug coverage. That meant she would have to pay for needed medication out of her own pocket.

“Some of those prescriptions are $50, so I just couldn’t do it,” she said. “I never took any medications because I couldn’t pay for them, but the CarolinaEast Foundation has come through to pay for the cancer drugs that I need.”

O’Neill said she also benefitted from gas cards.

“The cost of gas was too high,” she said. “I spent all my savings. I had to sell things to pay for the gas to get treated. It literally broke me.”

She credits the T-shirt drive and the foundation.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” she said.

Charlie Winter, a Havelock firefighter/paramedic in charge of the T-shirt committee this year, said money raised through the drive is designed for area cancer patients.

“It’s for the local people. It stays in the local community,” he said. “After six years of doing this, we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor. We’re starting to get a lot of pictures in of some of the people we’ve helped.”

The fire department gets a report each year on how many people the fund helped, but rarely do firefighters get to meet the recipients.

“A couple of weeks ago we got to meet some of the ones at the hospital,” Assistant Fire Chief Steve Coffey said. “So that was pretty cool, and it’s good to hear the stories.”

The campaign started as a way to help breast cancer patients but has since expanded to help patients with any type of cancer.

“We kind of started off with the breast cancer thing the very first year we did it, but we soon realized that cancer touches everybody,” Coffey said. “It’s kind of how we have evolved. It doesn’t matter to us what kind of cancer you have.”