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Cancer Services, a support program that helps 4,000 people a year, is merging with Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center to expand the organization's reach across 18 southeast Louisiana parishes.

Cancer Services, a support program that helps 4,000 people a year, is merging with Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center to expand the organization's services beyond the Baton Rouge area across southeast Louisiana.

“It’s been Cancer Services’ desire for many years to expand our reach beyond the greater Baton Rouge region and we’ll do this by leveraging Mary Bird Perkins’ 18-parish service area throughout southeast Louisiana, thus helping many more people," said Anthony B. O’Connor, board president at Cancer Services.

O’Connor stressed that Cancer Services remains a resource for all of the organization’s clients and that all cancer centers can continue referring patients to the organization.

The Cancer Services headquarters at 550 Lobdell Blvd. will remain open. Plans are to house the support services offered by Cancer Services at the location.

Since 1959, Cancer Services has provided support to help families and individuals of all ages through difficulties from a cancer diagnosis. The organization provides therapeutic, free-of-charge support through counseling, support groups, exercise programs, adult and children’s programming, as well as assistance with nutritional supplements, emergency grants, wigs and medical equipment loans. The organization has an annual budget of about $1.3 million.

“Our goal is that patients don’t see any change,” O’Connor said. “It’s the same staff, everything will remain free of charge, and there will be no interruption of services.”

Cancer Services currently serves about 4,000 people, and Mary Bird Perkins provides services to more than 3,500 new patients annually.

Through the new partnership, Cancer Services will have the potential to reach Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center patients in five locations: Baton Rouge, Gonzales, Hammond, Covington and Houma — with its service area encompassing 18 parishes. Mary Bird, with its hospital partners, offers comprehensive cancer services, including education and early detection, treatment, clinical trials and survivorship programs.

Talk of a merger started a few months ago after Jill Roshto, the former chief executive officer of Cancer Services, left to become CEO and president of the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation. The two organizations share a mission to help people with cancer and have a history of collaboration; at one point Cancer Services had a small office on the Mary Bird Perkins campus.

Mary Bird Perkins was the second or third hospital we talked with,” he said. “They saw the value in our partnership, and we were aligned in our underlying goals.”

“Throughout the country, there are few organizations offering the depth and breadth of services that Cancer Services has been able to marshal,” said Renea Duffin, vice president of cancer support and outreach at Mary Bird Perkins. “Through this merger, we’ll be able to streamline and strengthen programs and determine how we can offer even more to those impacted by this disease. Including Cancer Services as part of our center is a natural extension of our mission to improve survivorship and lessen the burden of cancer.”

Duffin said that Cancer Services’ board of directors will continue to provide volunteer leadership for the organization and that all employees have been offered employment as part of Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center.

The merger also will allow for a more efficient and effective use of money donated locally to help people with cancer.

“This is all about people living with cancer and providing supportive care services to them,” she said.