K elly Turner Cole spent two decades serving the public as a New Haven police officer. Eventually becoming a trainer of new recruits, before that she spent years policing the Beaver Hills area.
Now she’s devoting her days and nights to a different kind of beat. In July 2001 at the age of 36, Cole crossed the thin pink line, diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Like many of the one in eight women who get it, as she faced the physical and emotional tolls imparted by surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, she was nearly blindsided by another dangerous obstacle: how to live when you can’t make a living.
Being too sick to work presents a whole new set of worries that can be summed up as “how to pay the bills.” With Cole’s co-workers in the police department rallying behind her, taking up collections and putting on fundraisers, Cole knows she was one of the lucky ones. Her police department buddies were her salvation, coming to her rescue with encouragement and financial support. Her church group, family and friends came to her aid, too, “allowing me peace of mind that I could stay in my home and not worry about my unending bills.” Yet she could see the unfortunate truth that most people don’t have that kind of safety net, nor do they have the personal financial resources to survive a crisis that can last several months.
In 2002, she set to work, while she was still undergoing her own treatment, and the result is The C.H.A.I.N. Fund, the acronym standing for “Compassionate Hands Assisting Interim Needs.” What it does is raise and disburse funds—drumming up donations and grants from individuals, companies, non-profits and government, then doling them out based on need to those who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Monies aren’t paid to the patients themselves, instead going directly to service providers—hospitals, pharmacies, landlords, utility companies.
With pride, Cole recalls case after case where C.H.A.I.N. made the difference between barely surviving and thriving with gusto. She mentions Mary, who’d been the sole provider for her family before getting her diagnosis: Stage 2 breast cancer. Too sick to work, “We were able to assist Mary with paying a portion of her mortgage for three months, which in turn allowed her to get through the period of treatment she needed to rest,” Cole says.
She also remembers Bob, a single dad with two kids. “He was diagnosed with colon cancer. He had not too long ago suffered the loss of his wife to breast cancer.” Like Mary, he couldn’t earn income in the throes of treatment, so C.H.A.I.N. “paid a portion of the rent and a few months of his electric bill, too.”
Single mother Katlin, another beneficiary, didn’t get cancer herself, but her 3-year-old daughter did, a rare version that kept Mom away from work. C.H.A.I.N. paid “a portion of her rent, utilities and picked up the co-pay cost for her daughter’s prescriptions.”
In short, the dollars C.H.A.I.N. raises help cancer patients and their families with their everyday bills, so houses won’t be foreclosed and cars won’t be repossessed and utilities won’t be shut off and medical treatment can continue. “I get more applications than I can fill, at an alarming rate,” Cole says. “Day to day it’s just me trying to meet the needs.”
Additional pockets of support have sprung up in places like Massachusetts and Georgia, from concerned folks who attended a fundraiser in Connecticut and spoke to relatives elsewhere, encouraging them to promote the idea where they live. Events in those areas have spread the word and, of course, raised money for the cause.
Today, 13 years after her diagnosis, Cole feels “great and awesome. I get up early and I go, go, go all day long.” But she still wants help—volunteers to wave the banner, so to speak, including helping organize and execute more fundraisers.
Last Friday, a fundraiser held at Southern Connecticut State University was titled “1 in 8: The Boobs Monologues,” with five breast cancer survivors sharing their stories. Kelly called the event “educational, awesome and real” and hopes to do it again soon. Plans are in the making for a December “Breakfast and a Movie” fundraiser, hopefully with the new release Annie, a remake of the original classic now set in Harlem, starring adorable newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis as the optimistic orphan and Jamie Foxx as her potential wealthy benefactor.
Like little Annie, Cole herself clearly has a sun’ll-come-out attitude, but she also plays the part of the benefactor, helping people make it to tomorrow with heads held high.
The C.H.A.I.N. Fund
91 Shelton Ave, Ste 111, New Haven (map)
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Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photographed by Dan Mims.