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Childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer survivors and their families across the state are encouraged to participate in the West Virginia Pediatric and Young Adult Cancer Alliance, a new initiative from the Putnam County-based Walking Miracles Family Foundation.

The community-based program will educate cancer survivors and their loved ones on the long-term side effects of cancer treatments and how survivors might achieve optimal health in the years ahead.

“Our West Virginia families will now have what my mom and I never did,” said Walking Miracles founder and CEO officer Brett Wilson in a release. “As a childhood and adolescent cancer survivor myself, I understand these young people and their loved ones desperately need help and guidance as they adapt to being cancer survivors. That’s what our new alliance is designed to provide.”

The alliance is made possible by a $45,000 grant from the Highmark West Virginia Charitable Fund for Health, which awards programs and initiatives that specifically address and improve the health, well-being and quality of life for West Virginia residents.

Walking Miracles offers survivors navigation programs designed to increase knowledge of their disease, understand their treatment options and learn about the lifetime implications of their treatment choices. The nonprofit also assists patients in communicating more effectively with their clinical care teams, and provides assistance to families in travel, food and lodging costs while seeking treatment.

Walking Miracles will team with Dr. Patricia D. Shearer, the founder of Patti’s Place Vital Pediatrics for Complex Kids in Atlanta, to make the alliance a reality. Shearer will serve as the alliance’s director of survivorship.

A board-certified pediatric oncologist and pediatric palliative medicine physician with an extensive background in survivorship program development, Shearer will consult with cancer survivors, working with individuals and family members to coordinate care in their local communities. She is registered by the State of West Virginia Board of Medicine as a telehealth provider.

“Our approach features a unique process of education by telehealth according to the guidelines of the Children’s Oncology Group. It then helps them arrange follow-up with a primary care physician near their home,” Shearer said.

The West Virginia Pediatric and Young Adult Cancer Alliance is a prototype program that could be adapted nationwide, according to Shearer.

“We believe our efforts can become a national model to bring awareness to the challenges that face young cancer survivors and empower them to promote health as they move forward with their lives,” she said.

Wilson said the new alliance will immediately benefit state families who often feel overwhelmed when caring for a loved one experiencing cancer.

“It’s a game-changer in West Virginia,” he said, “especially for the rural areas. The alliance will help answer crucial questions, guide survivors as they get older and connect them to primary care facilities.

“Launching an innovative program led by an experienced survivorship expert like Dr. Shearer is a wonderful addition to Walking Miracles.”

Walking Miracles Family Foundation’s Kacie Owens will play a key role in the West Virginia Pediatric and Young Adult Cancer Alliance by serving as its nurse navigator. A pediatric nurse practitioner, Owens has experience working with pediatric oncology patients during their active treatment and with survivors who have had long-term side effects.

It is all about educating the cancer survivor, Owens said in the release.

“Long-term side effects are a huge part of cancer survivorship. We hope by creating partnerships with the patient’s treating facilities, primary care providers, Walking Miracles and Patti’s Place, we can make sure cancer survivors are fully aware of their personal risks for long-term effects and help them get preventative and effective care,” she said.

James L. Fawcett Jr., president of Highmark West Virginia, commended Walking Miracles for its foresight in establishing the alliance.

“It is humbling and rewarding to partner with so many organizations that are moving the needle in improving the health and well-being of West Virginians every day. This charitable fund enables us to join efforts to enhance the quality of life for so many in need in our communities,” he said.

Walking Miracles Family Foundation staff members are eager for the project to get underway.

“This truly is a passion project for all of us,” Owens said. “We are all very pleased to provide this crucial link for West Virginia families. I personally cannot wait to see how it grows and helps more and more people.”

For more information on Walking Miracles or its West Virginia Pediatric and Young Adult Cancer Alliance, visit walkingmiracles.org.

The Walking Miracles Family Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life and cancer experience for patients throughout the continuum of illness. Wilson, of Teays Valley, is a two-time cancer survivor of childhood leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He is a certified counselor and patient navigator. Walking Miracles was founded to support travel, navigation, referrals and advocacy for cancer patients and survivors.

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