Buy Photo

Autumn Parry / The Californian

Deanna Brown, a beneficiary of the Kern County Cancer Fund, was diagnosed in May of 2011 with stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma. "Never take life for granted," says Brown, who is still receiving treatment, "because you just don't know what you're going to wake up to in the morning."

When Deanna Brown lost her job and thus her health insurance last December following a year of chemotherapy, she feared her cancer treatments would end as well.

What Brown had thought was strep throat two years ago turned out to be Hodgkin lymphoma that she later learned was present in 14 parts of her body, including her bone marrow, spleen and chest.

Brown tried to return to her job as a social worker last year but quickly became ill, and eventually was let go.

"I was thinking, 'How am I going to pay an extra $500 a month on what disability pays just to keep my insurance?' My first reaction was, I was going to have to stop treatment cause I didn't have insurance," Brown said.

But then Brown, who continues to receive chemotherapy at the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center, was refered to the Kern County Cancer Fund. The program, operated under the CBCC Foundation for Community Wellness, helps local cancer patients with insurance costs.

The cancer fund picked up Brown's $487 monthly COBRA premium. The aid was approved for six months but Brown recently had her program benefits renewed.

"I think a lot more people need to know about (the fund)," Brown said.

The Kern County Cancer Fund, which started last year, marked a milestone Wednesday with the announcement of its 20-member board of governors. Board members included health care, nonprofit and banking industry employees.

The program has collected close to $1.5 million already, thanks largely to proceeds from the Fight for Life fundraiser last fall that were matched by Dr. Ravi Patel, CBCC's founder, and CBCC.

Board chairman Bruce Jay, Valley Republic Bank's president and chief executive officer, said every dollar donated to the fund will help local people.

"(This fund) is for the people of Kern County. It's organized by people of Kern County, managed by people of Kern County, and the benefits will go to the people of Kern County," Jay said.

Family and friend cancer fundraising teams Going Coconuts For A Cure and the Wavehogs presented decorated faux checks for $100,000 and $1,000 respectively to the cancer fund Wednesday. Brown and another beneficiary of the fund, James Luker, shared their thanks for the assistance they've received.

Cancer fundraising controversy ensued last fall when some locals became disenchanted with the American Cancer Society, a national nonprofit, upon realizing that the bulk of the local dollars donated to the group don't go directly to local patients.

Bakersfield has one of the largest Relay for Life events in the world, a major fundraiser for the cancer society.

Jay credited the local fund's creation to Patel and Leslie Knox, president of a local industrial cleaning company who pioneered the Fight for Life event. Both said they were glad to see the fund come to fruition Wednesday. Knox is a member of the fund's new board.

"It's gratifying because you know, we see this (need) on a daily basis," Patel said.

So far the fund has committed $120,000 to assist 34 people.