Chemo Buddies

Jill Wilhite Kincaid

Our Story...

My sister Karen was a very strong woman, and she was determined to beat cancer. She was also a very private person and didn't like talking about the disease or her prognosis. So when she told me I could go with her to chemotherapy, I was grateful to be "let in," and happy to keep her company. I told her I would be her buddy for every treatment and that together we would get through this. Whatever the future held, we were in it together.

What is chemo like? Imagine going to your doctor's office for a procedure and sitting alone in a large room for 4-8 hours with nothing to occupy your mind except periodic visits from your nurse. Tethered to your IV, moving around is not easy, and the silence of the room leaves your mind to wander.

Silent waiting with an occasional dose of fear: this is the treatment life of a typical chemo patient. It is easy to see the toll that chemo can take on a person's emotional and spiritual well-being in addition to the physical demands.

Karen HATED chemo. Chemo can kill cancer, but it is a horrible ordeal. As we sat there week after week in the chemo treatment room we began to notice that many patients were sitting alone. Karen began asking me to help take care of the other people around her in the treatment room. (And by asking, I mean she used her ultimate big sister authority voice and TOLD me to do it, lol) Whether they needed a blanket, a drink or help of any kind, if you were at chemo on the same day as Karen, you got to share her buddy.

It occurred to us that some simple changes could make this day so much better. We wanted to create a different environment for the treatment room — one where time doesn't stand still — a room that is less fearful and more life giving. So Karen and I co-wrote a proposal to her oncologist that would allow volunteers into the chemo room to serve patients as companions and patient helpers. Since there are no televisions there, we also suggested providing a lending library of iPads.

The organization was founded in the state of Indiana on August 22, 2011 and in January 2012, I put on my yellow apron and began the Chemo Buddies journey. Our motto, that Karen wrote, is, "Because no one should ever have to go through chemo alone." We now have more than 30,000 patient contacts in a year.  The need is so much greater than Karen and I could ever have imagined.

Karen passed away on July 25, 2011, from Triple Negative Breast Cancer, so she never got to see our dream become reality. When a patient stops me to tell me what a difference we are making in the treatment room, my heart smiles. To me, this program is creating a living legacy to the kindness of my sister Karen. In the midst of her darkest hour, she was worrying about the others around her who had no one. Both the patients beside her at the time, and the ones yet to come.