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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Helping the Underserved: The Desert Cancer Foundation of Arizona provides awareness and information to educate people about existing resources and treatment options across the Valley

May 03, 2015 08:59AM ● By By Eric Sells

The Desert Cancer Foundation of Arizona (DCFA) was created in 1998 when its founders learned of the wide gap between funding available for the working poor in women’s healthcare, and subsequently held a series of public forums to search for a solution. The foundation was created as a public service to the communities of Arizona. What started as a simple community-service project for members of a Soroptimist Club in Chandler 17 years ago has grown into a nonprofit organization that directly impacts the health and wellness of hundreds of Arizonans every year.

Founding member Paula Wirth continues to serve on the board and says, ”At the time, I found much to my horror that the biggest unmet need in our community was caring for the poor. These were the same people who needed help the most, and yet could not get it anywhere, or they simply weren’t aware of the process or agencies available that could assist them.”

DCFA provides awareness and information to educate individuals about existing resources, available drugs and cancer treatments through public informational meetings, workshops and lectures. Health fairs, free mammograms and breast self-exam instruction are provided to qualified women through community grants received for this purpose. A community awareness luncheon, Learning, Loving and Living with Cancer, is held each October, with a focus on cancer survivors.

When Wirth helped start DCFA, she didn’t have cancer. However, eight years later, she learned otherwise, and she has since become a survivor of three separate diagnoses. “This journey really solidified my understanding of what a patient goes through,” she says. “At the time of the initial diagnosis, I had health insurance and felt secure about my finances. Then I was told I had a rare cancer, primitive neuro ectodermic tumor, or PNET, which was not covered by insurance. Obviously, my own cancer experience has just heightened my passion for helping other cancer patients, especially those without insurance and unable to pay for even a mammogram.”

Wirth says DCFA is an all-volunteer organization. There is no paid staff, no office and no overhead, with the exception of a cell phone bill each month, ensuring that a significant majority of funding received is used to directly provide services. She says board members take turns answering the phone, so there is always someone that can respond to a client right away if needed. Funding comes from grants and fundraisers held throughout the year.

Throughout its history, DCFA has forged relationships with many local organizations, such as Ironwood Cancer Centers, Banner Health, Well Woman Healthcheck of Arizona, Native American Women’s Wellness and Mobile Onsite Mammography, that help extend the nonprofit’s reach and ability to provide services. Dr. Edgar Hernandez was one of the very first physicians the organization worked with in Chandler, and he remains an active participant today. The organization also provides naturopathic and integrative healthcare options.

For more information, phone 480-763-6897 or visit

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