Lady Cancer Warriors

The “Kicking Cancer” Quilt is on display at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation. Shown with the quilt from left, are Kelly Kerr, Debra Caple, Kelly Gandy, Mary Roy and Brianna Spry.

“When it hits, it’s life changing,” remarked Mary Roy when discussing what has become her heart’s passion – organizing community benefits to help families when a loved one has been given the diagnosis: Cancer.

Mary’s beloved brother, Bill Roy, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor in 2011. This aggressive brain cancer took his life in 2014. Mary explained that even when a person has health insurance, the family incurs a huge number of additional costs, which are usually not covered by insurance. Expenses related to the need to travel out of town for specialty care, costs for gas, hotels, food, miscellaneous medicines and other care name just a few of the increased burden of this medical nightmare.

“Cancer is quite simply a catastrophic event,” Roy said. “Not only the individual, but their families really do rely on others coming to aid with support, whether financial or emotional, it all matters.”

The Itasca Area Cancer Crisis Fund (IACCF) was created in 2010, inspired by area members raising awareness through Team Bisch, a group of family and friends supporting local educator Jackie Bischoff (1970-2010) in her cancer battle. The goal of the fund is to continue awareness and support of the need to help local families fighting cancer in Itasca County. The fund is managed by the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation. Dozens of local benefits have come and gone since the inception of the Itasca Area Cancer Crisis Fund, along with numerous brightly colored t-shirt’s - all bearing a slogan of support for the recipient of each fund drive.

Mary and her friend Ann Backes noticed when they started the benefit drives that there was core group of instrumental volunteers who repeatedly came together to act as cancer warriors to promote, gather and kick-off each very important event.

Mary said, “No one wants to have this kind of party. It is always with heavy hearts that each benefit is planned, because cancer is an insidious disease that does not discriminate.”

Mary and Ann hoped that the benefits have been a beacon of light to facing unknown challenges. Becky Steinert, the recipient of the “Bad Beck’s Battle,” said “Just knowing that the community cared and reached out, helped me feel more determined in my fight against cancer.”

Mary wondered what she could do with the t-shirt’s that were left over at each benefit. She learned a woman named Debra Caple and her beautiful quilt-making abilities. Debra took several of the shirts and created a one of a kind “Kicking Cancer” Quilt to be used as a visual piece for community awareness for those who have passed, and those who continue their battles with cancer. The quilt is on display in downtown Grand Rapids at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation. The Itasca Area Cancer Crisis Fund has an ebb and flow in funding since often there is a wane if there is no spotlight for a particular person or event.

Mary wants to remind the community that this fund must be retained with consistency and dedication because not every person wants or desires a community benefit. She said many people dealing with cancer are often quiet, with smaller support systems – but they still require direction and financial aid. It is important that funding is stable and available for even the simplest needs. Oftentimes, the caretakers need to take leave of absence from their jobs, which adds to the additional loss of income for many families. The financial strain goes beyond most people’s insurance and savings.

Two upcoming benefits need community support. One is for Aria Johns, a three-year-old, and the other supports Becca Kuechle, a 22-year-old mother of one, who is currently expecting her second baby. Mary believes that if the community continues to steadfastly give, local families will be better served when cancer strikes.

To learn more about the Itasca Area Cancer Crisis Fund and how you can give, visit the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation’s website ( or call Brianna Spry at 218-999-9100. To learn more about how benefits are organized, contact Mary Roy at With an entire community working together, the Lady Cancer Warriors plan to continue their mission: Strike back at cancer - one benefit at time.


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