The Cancer Coalition of South Georgia began as a collaboration of diverse stakeholders and in 2013, its enduring partnerships remain the foundation of its success.
In 2000, Georgia made a landmark decision to aggressively fight cancer across the state. Much of Georgia's Tobacco Settlement funding was to be dedicated to developing a definitive statewide system of cancer control. Hundreds of interested individuals across South Georgia came together in response to the opportunity to capture desperately needed resources to better prevent, find, and treat cancer in the region. The area’s four cancer centers led the effort: Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, John D. Archbold Memorial Hospital in Thomasville, South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta and Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton. The cancer centers were joined by local healthcare, business, religious, academic and community leaders as well as public health departments and others to create the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition.
In 2002, the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization. It was designated by the state as a "Regional Program of Excellence" – now called a "Regional Cancer Coalition of Georgia" – and at the time, covered a 33-county service area. Regional Cancer Coalitions were established in several areas of the state, and they continue to address cancer at the community level in collaboration with state agencies and local organizations.
Despite the unfulfilled promise of considerable state funding, the fledgling Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition remained stable due to the commitment of its inaugural board members, plus strong financial support from the four cancer centers. In addition, being identified as the community partner of Emory University’s Prevention Research Center provided faculty expertise and additional funding with which the Cancer Coalition could begin conducting research in its local communities.
In 2005, the first Chief Executive Officer was hired and within two years, a strong and flexible infrastructure of talented staff members was built. The level of staff expertise, and ongoing dedication of the original and new board members, allowed the organization to respond to numerous opportunities for growth and diversified funding. In 2008, the organization initiated focused and expanded fundraising efforts to continue to stabilize its fiscal base. By 2010, the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition had established an impressive programmatic and research portfolio, particularly in the areas of cancer screening and early detection, identifying and reducing health-related disparities, prevention/risk reduction research, community-based outreach and education, education for healthcare professionals, and support for organizations serving local cancer patients.
In January 2012, the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition changed its name to the Cancer Coalition of South Georgia, a more accurate representation of its priority of fighting cancer via collaborative work (“Cancer Coalition”) and of the broad area it served (“South Georgia”). Its service area was modified to 32 counties (please see map). By this time, the organization was recognized as a statewide and national model for its innovative and effective programs and research, all successfully being implemented in one of the most impoverished regions of the country.
The unwavering support of the four regional cancer centers has remained the most critical factor in allowing the Cancer Coalition to thrive, and the organization has consistently proven its value and positive return on the centers’ investment. In addition, the Cancer Coalition’s work has earned respect among state legislators and the Governor’s office, and it has remained in the state budget despite an often struggling economy. These two essential sources of support – the cancer centers and the state of Georgia – as well as continued support from Emory University, have allowed the organization to sustain key initiatives in the face of rapidly changing funding and healthcare environments.
As demonstrated by the above history, much has been accomplished; however, much remains to be done. The Board of Directors, staff members, partners and volunteers of the Cancer Coalition look forward to the time when cancer – and the suffering it brings – is merely past history in South Georgia. Everyone who is part of the Cancer Coalition remains steadfast in moving forward in the mission of “Fighting Cancer … Right Here, Right Now.”