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BATESVILLE, Ark. (AP) - After Sherrin Watson of Strawberry was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia, she was told she would eventually need a bone marrow transplant in St. Louis.

But with her husband Arlin retired and she having to leave her job because of her illness, they didn't know how they would afford the gas to take her treatments in Batesville - much less travel out of state for a transplant.

She's not alone.

Cliff Knappenberger was first diagnosed with lung cancer last August, then right before Christmas he found out he has brain cancer as well. "They just keep finding things," the 49-year-old Evening Shade resident said.

Knappenberger had to quit his job in drywalling and construction, saying, "That didn't just go with cancer."

But thanks to a new program called Ribbons of Hope, Watson, Knappenberger and countless other patients of Batesville Oncology Clinic and the White River Medical Center's Cancer Care Center don't have to choose between filling up the car with gas to come take a treatment, or buying food or paying another bill.

Ribbons of Hope is a nonprofit organization established last year to help meet the immediate needs of the cancer patients treated in the Batesville area, according to Tiffany Cox, office manager at Batesville Oncology.

Cox told

The Batesville Daily Guard

that Batesville Oncology and the Cancer Care Center have teamed up for Ribbons of Hope and work with one another to offer different types of treatment. For instance, she said, the oncology office doesn't offer radiation, just chemotherapy and other infusions, whereas the Cancer Care Center does the radiation side of treatment.

"Back when we were in the other building across the street ... we would have patients call and say they weren't going to make their appointment because they couldn't afford the gas, or they'd say, 'Don't call in that prescription, I don't have the money for it.'

"The employees would pass a hat and pitch in to meet the patients' needs, but it just got to be overwhelming for us," she continued. "So we came up with this fund."

The money is dispensed according to the doctors' discretion, and patients don't have to show proof of income.

"Whatever the patients' needs are, we help them out," she said. "It is our goal to ensure that these patients have transportation to their appointments and treatments. We want to make sure that they have access to prescription medications and that no one goes hungry because of the burden that cancer adds to someone."

Last year the program had bake sales and a yard sale and Cox said they are planning more benefit fundraisers to build up the funds.

"The radiation machine (at the Cancer Care Center) is down, so patients have had to travel to Jonesboro. They have to come here first to get chemo, then go to Jonesboro for five days," Cox said.

Typically, they come home for the weekend, then start the process over on Monday morning, Cox said.

"Until you're involved you don't realize what all people have to go through," she said.

And, many are forced to quit working at a time when medical bills start mounting. "The more we can get the community involved, the more we can help our patients," Cox said.

She also said Ribbons of Hope is affiliated with the White River Health System Foundation and donations are tax-deductible, and all proceeds go directly to the patients.

"We've been helped a lot. If it hadn't been for (Ribbons of Hope) I don't know how we would have gotten by," Sherrin Watson said.

She has a blood disorder called thrombocytopenia in which she has a low number of platelets.

Since last fall she has been in and out of the hospital six times, and has now started treatments, which will require her to go to the hospital for observation.

Watson will eventually need a bone marrow transplant, which will be done in St. Louis, but she is waiting for Medicaid to kick in before then. She has already had her initial visit in St. Louis, and Ribbons of Hope helped her afford that trip.

Knappenberger also praised Ribbons of Hope. "They've been great, that's for sure," he said. "I brag on everybody here and nobody's (he's told) ever heard of it before."

Knappenberger said he can't have radiation because the cancer is too close to his heart.

"They shot it with a gamma knife hoping that would kill it," he said. If the gamma knife surgery doesn't work and he still wasn't able to take radiation therapy, he was to start chemotherapy instead.

Ribbons of Hope has provided Knappenberger and fiancee with gas money to get back and forth to treatments, as well as money for food and medicine.

"If we ever get financially able to help them we sure would - they have been a godsend," Arnold said.

"I'll turn around and kick it in the butt," Knappenberger said about his cancer. "I got a lot of fishing to do this summer."

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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