When cancer touches a life, Cancer Action is there to help.

When cancer touches a life, Cancer Action is there to help.

The 53-year-old nonprofit has had an Independence location for 15 years, last year serving 1,300 families. It provides a range of free services, from wigs and help with prescription drugs to counseling and support groups. But sometimes, says Executive Director Karla Nichols, it’s the small thing that makes a difference.

Take the comfort items, such as an afghans, neck pillows and gowns. All are made by hand, by a volunteer the patient will likely never meet.

“Those are made with care and compassion. ... It’s a symbol of community,” Nichols said.

The group has three offices, in Independence, Overland Park and Kansas City, Kan. It’s not part of a national organization.

“We’re ... Kansas Citians helping Kansas Citians. ... That’s one thing that makes us very unique from other charities,” Nichols said.

Its services are free to anyone in the Kansas City area with a cancer diagnosis, and those services are increasingly in need as health care grows more costly.

“Facing a serious illness is a very expensive proposition,” she said.

A good example of needed services, she said, would be a breast cancer patient who might typically need three main things: help with prescriptions – especially in the last couple of years with the tough economy – the nutritional supplements that help those undergoing chemo or radiation, and a wig. That last one is no small thing for people trying to preserve some normalcy in their lives, and Cancer Action gives away hundreds every year, plus scarves, turbans and hats.

“I like to say that when people leave our wig room, they leave accessorized,” Nichols said.

Many who come to Cancer Action are referred by health-care providers. There are support groups, including one in Independence, and often caseworkers find themselves working with caregivers – typically a spouse – as the patient is undergoing intense treatment.

Among the group’s services:

• Transportation to cancer-related appointments. The group is always looking for volunteers, and there’s a particular need for drivers in the Independence office.

• Financial assistance, for cancer-related prescription drugs, for those without insurance or those who cannot afford an insurance co-pay.

• Nutritional supplements for those getting chemotherapy or radiation treatment or for patients in advanced stages of illness.

• Medical equipment, including bath benches, commodes, walkers, wheelchairs, canes, crutches and canes. Also, mastectomy supplies, including prostheses – professionally fitted – and bras. As available, there are ostomy supplies, colostomy supplies, bandages, gauze, Depends, diabetic and laryngectomy supplies. There are lymphedema sleeves for women who suffer lymphedema as a side effect of breast cancer surgery.

• Education programs and a educational resource library – vital help for someone who suddenly has to come up to speed on a medical condition that’s suddently thrust itself into one’s life.

“Providing good education and guidance is paramount, particularly when they’re first diagnosed,” Nichols said.

• Art classes, promoting self-expression and emotional well-being.

“But overarching of of that,” said Nichols, “is our caring, professional staff.”

The Eastern Jackson County office is at 4010 S. Lynn Court in Independence. The “Time to Talk” support group meets the first Tuesday of the month. Call 816-350-8881.