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Published on January 10, 2019

female doctor holding the hand of a patient

A patient should not have to choose treatment over food

Sometimes it comes down to the hard decision: leave the gas tank empty or leave the cupboards empty. This was the dilemma facing 64-year-old Theresa Rynes of Hixton, Minn. Given a cancer diagnosis in August last year, getting to Gundersen Health System in La Crosse for treatments was her priority.

"It's a 57-mile trip one way from my home to Gundersen. Sometimes my sisters would help me out with a ride part way, but I couldn't always bother them," Theresa says.

On one visit to Gundersen, Theresa was getting a blood draw and started crying. She recalls, "The person drawing my blood asked why I was crying. I told her I was hungry. It was Tuesday and I hadn't eaten since Sunday and that was a can of expired chicken and rice soup."

Before Theresa left Gundersen that day she had gift cards to buy food and gas plus a food voucher for Gundersen's cafeteria to ensure she wasn't going home hungry. No longer working because of her health, Theresa was worrying about financial issues in addition to her health. Getting help was possible because of a caring staff member who recognized Theresa's distress. Gundersen social worker Melinda Wickland stepped in to help Theresa find all the resources available to her, including Paula's Purse.

Paula's Purse is a Gundersen Medical Foundation fund to help patients with necessities like food, heat and transportation costs while going through cancer treatment.

"Philanthropy sustains Paula's Purse and Gundersen employees have always responded so generously," says Mandy Nogle, director of development for the Foundation. "Many employees chose to support Paula's Purse during the iGive Employee Giving Campaign. Programs like iGive, and special events like Rock That Purse, fueled by their generosity, are what make Paula's Purse possible."

Theresa had her last chemotherapy treatment in December and is hopeful for a good prognosis. While hope comes from world-class cancer care, Paula's Purse also offered Theresa hope, too, when she needed it most. Theresa says, "Paula's Purse is a wonderful program. I can't thank them enough."

To make a gift to Paula's Purse visit

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