Terry Spicer knows how long the miles can seem for a cancer patient who needs to travel for treatment.
After her best friend, Gwen Bishop, was diagnosed with breast cancer, Spicer thought she might wear out the stretch of Interstate 40 between Raleigh and Chapel Hill while driving her friend to appointments.
It was an education, a look into how the little things, like filling the gas tank again and again, could add to a patient’s burden.
“People are engaged in so much just trying to live,” she said.
Spicer could help lift those burdens for Bishop, who died nearly 13 years ago. But inspired by her friend’s courage and commitment to living, Spicer wanted to help even more people.
Two years ago, she launched The Sisters Inspiring Sisters Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit that provides transportation assistance to all cancer patients in the form of $25 gas cards. Spicer works with established nonprofits and medical organizations to distribute the cards to patients and their caregivers.
She has helped 400 patients in 45 North Carolina counties, as well as a few in South Carolina and Virginia, access the care they need.
“It’s more than just a gift card, it’s a bridge to survivorship,” Spicer said.
Carol Fuller, 51, of Creedmoor was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2010, then again in 2013. Just a few months later, her oldest son died of the same disease at age 29.
She’s been in treatment since, with the hope of finishing soon, and is the recipient of a gas card from The Sisters Inspiring Sisters. She said it makes a difference to know someone is looking out for her full range of needs.
“When you’re in a situation like that, any source of income is a blessing,” Fuller said. “I see it as a blessing.”
Spicer made her first donation of gift cards through the Pretty in Pink Foundation, which provides financial assistance to breast cancer patients.
Penny Lauricella, executive director of the foundation, said transportation is a critical part of making sure patients get the treatment they need.
The gas cards ease the financial burden of driving, for a patient or caregiver. It can make it easier for patients to ask for help knowing they can pay for gas.
“If they don’t have the funds, people say, ‘I’ll get there when I can,’ and that’s detrimental to their health,” Lauricella said.
Spicer, a publicist, hopes to expand her one-woman organization. This year, she will launch three campaigns – tied to colon cancer, leukemia and childhood cancers – with the families of patients that she hopes will provide educational and financial support to those in need.
Some days of running the nonprofit are harder than others. The sad stories take their toll; patient deaths are always devastating.
But Spicer thinks of Bishop every day, of her laugh and her determination to live, and is inspired again.
Even the name of the nonprofit is a nod to their close-as-sisters friendship. The two, who met in the mid-1990s, always called one another “Sissy.”
“Not a day goes by that I don’t carry her,” Spicer said.