Bridging the miles: Kathleen Sutton Inspirational Fund ensures travel costs are no barrier to women who need cancer treatment | Kitsap Week

Kathleen Sutton, seen here in this photo circa 1995, was the motivation behind the Kathleen Sutton Inspirational Fund. The fund helps cover transportation expenses for women battling cancer.  - Quentin Gilman
Kathleen Sutton, seen here in this photo circa 1995, was the motivation behind the Kathleen Sutton Inspirational Fund. The fund helps cover transportation expenses for women battling cancer.
— image credit: Quentin Gilman

You could say the Kathleen Sutton Inspirational Foundation is the result of a bad dream.

Kathleen Sutton worked in Kingston and lived in Shine on the Olympic Peninsula. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 and traveled to Seattle for treatment.

In 2003, Sutton’s cancer had spread to her bones, making it difficult for her to drive. Her good friend, Vivi-Ann Parnell often drove Sutton to and from her many Seattle appointments. One day, after purchasing another round of passenger and car/driver ferry tickets, Parnell turned to Sutton and asked, “How can people afford this?” Parnell wondered about other women in similar situations who had to pay these transportation expenses in addition to the costs of medical care.

Parnell recalls Sutton responding, “You do what you have to do.”

That was on a Wednesday. On Sunday, Sutton and Parnell were throwing an auction for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Parnell asked, what if the money raised on Sunday instead went to offset transportation costs for local women battling cancer?

Sutton scoffed at the idea —the fundraiser was in place for the Susan G. Komen Foundation and that was that.

Or so they thought.

Parnell drove Sutton home, tucked her in bed and left her sleeping.

Later that evening, Sutton called Parnell.

“Let’s do what you said,” Sutton said. Why the change of heart?  While Sutton slept, she had a nightmare that she couldn’t afford to travel to Seattle for her treatments.

When Sutton announced the change of plans at the auction, it was met with a round of applause. The change in course had nothing against the Susan G. Komen Foundation; Sutton was a huge supporter, Parnell said. But this new focus gave the community something with which to relate. Living on this side of Seattle, who can’t relate to the expense of ferrying back and forth? (Currently, a roundtrip visit to downtown Seattle from Kitsap County via the ferry costs $37.50 for a driver and passenger, though the price is lower if tickets are purchased in bulk.)

In the nine years since the first fundraiser, more than 400 women in Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam who suffer from women’s cancers (breast, cervical, ovarian and uterine) have received funds for transportation. The money may be used for ferry tickets, gasoline, taxis and parking.

“We had big ideas for fundraising,” Parnell said. “We had fun coming up with magnificent plans.” But in 2004, Sutton passed away before the second auction. Since then, Parnell and volunteers have carried on the fund in Sutton’s honor.

On Oct. 15, the annual auction will be held from 4-7 p.m. at the Hood Canal Pavilion in Port Gamble. Tickets are $10 and include one glass of beer or wine and hors d’oeuvres. The evening includes both silent and live auctions. Big-ticket items are airline tickets and accommodations at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Parnell hopes to exceed last year’s amount raised of $25,000.

“We really need it,” she said. “The requests keep coming in.”

Port Townsend artist True Heart is donating pieces of her artwork for the auction. The Kathleen Sutton Inspirational Fund is dear to Heart. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year and spent 18 weeks commuting to Seattle for chemotherapy.

“It was quite a financial hardship,” Heart said. “I am eternally grateful to the fund.” Now cancer-free, Heart describes the fund as magical, as it helped her get through a difficult time.

With the current economy, the fund has provided support to many women who may not have otherwise asked. Some women have been laid off and have no health insurance. They are not only facing a troubling financial time, but they are battling cancer as well.

“I’ve had people tell me ‘I live in a nice house. I have a nice car. But I have absolutely no money,” Parnell said. “Women don’t ask for help unless they need it. It’s not about low-income, it’s about the need at the moment.”

Parnell told the example of a woman who lived in Forks and drove to Sequim for radiation. Her treatment required 35 round-trips, which added up to over $1,000 in gasoline money.

“We’ve had women tell us if it hadn’t been for the fund, they couldn’t have afforded to go for treatments,” Parnell said. “I always say, if Kathleen hadn’t had that dream, we wouldn’t have started.”



The Kathleen Sutton Inspirational Fund Auction

The annual auction will be held Oct. 15 from 4 -7 p.m. at the Hood Canal Vista Pavilion in Port Gamble.

Tickets are $10 and are available by calling Vivi-Ann Parnell at (360) 620-3259. The price includes hors d’oeuvres, desserts and one complimentary wine or beer.

The money raised at the event helps cover transportation-related expenses for women undergoing treatment of cancer.

If you. or someone you know, could benefit from the fund, contact Vivi-Ann Parnell at the above telephone number, or email her at

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