By Linda Grodzki, Correspondent
Published: June 15, 2014

The mission of the Tipsy Turtle Make Life Count Charity is clear: to aid local cancer patients with the resources they so desperately need while fighting this disease.

Ken Carey, 42, of Exeter, co-owner of The Tipsy Turtle restaurants, established the charity in 2004 after his own personal battle with testicular cancer. It was through his own brave journey that he was able to make an amazing difference in the lives of other cancer patients.

“When I was diagnosed in May of 2004, I had a big lump on my neck,” said Ken. “My general physician, Dr. Gerald Gibbons, got me into the General Hospital immediately. Dr. David Greenwald was the oncologist assigned to me. They biopsied it and found out it was testicular cancer; it spread throughout my whole body.”

“As aggressively as it grew, Dr. Greenwald said they could treat it just as aggressively,” continued Ken. “He put it into terms that I could understand. He said that the chemotherapy is like a mixed drink — it’s like a cocktail — you just have to have the right recipe and it should be effective. I then started my treatments, and it was four 21-day cycles.”

While undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Medical Oncology Associates in Kingston, Ken saw first-hand not only the physical and emotional toll that cancer could take on a person, but also the financial hardship involved. Health coverage can only go so far, and many patients are still responsible for daily or weekly co-pays that can reach into the thousands. Additionally, many times anti-nausea medication is not covered by the health care insurance provider, leaving the patient to pay out of pocket for this necessary medication to help alleviate some of the symptoms from treatment. That’s only covering the portion of people even still covered under health insurance, since so many of them are too ill to maintain their job that provided such benefits.

The Tipsy Turtle Make Life Count Charity is completely nonprofit and all proceeds are donated directly to Medical Oncology’s Prescription Assistance Fund, which is an account set up by Dr. David Greenwald and Dr. Bruce Saidman. This account helps provide struggling cancer patients with a financial resource they otherwise would not have. This includes but is not limited to providing medications to those who would otherwise go without, aiding in the payment of costly insurance co-pays and paying for a patient’s insurance all together if they lose their job.

“I can’t say enough about Medical Oncology staff,” said Ken. “From the receptionist to the nurses to the doctors — everyone there is just incredible, and that is really what made me start my charity. The amazing thing about cancer for me is that I now see it from three different perspectives. I saw it as a young kid who lost his mom (Ken’s mother passed away from leukemia at 46 years old). I saw it as a patient, and now I’m seeing it with my father, who now, at age 77, has stage three lung cancer. In all three perspectives of it, it honestly comes down to the doctors and nurses who are taking care of you.”

“When you go to Dr. Greenwald’s office and see what the staff is doing there, it is unbelievable,” continued Ken. “Even though it is an amazing feeling to do what we do to help money-wise with the charity, it’s what they do for the patients that is the real amazing thing.”

The Make Life Count Charity raises funds in many different ways and continues to expand through the years. Currently, the charity has evolved to include T-shirt sales, MLC bracelet sales, annual raffle ticket sales (grand prize $10,000 cash or a 2014 Harley Davidson motorcycle), corporate sponsor donations, an annual golf tournament on Aug. 3, donations from the Mustache Bash and its first ever Craftoberfest for Cancer. Ken’s kind, giving spirit is contagious, and the staff at the Tipsy Turtle restaurant locations (Swoyersville, Jenkins Township, and new, in July, The Tipsy Turtle Airport Pub in Avoca) assists him in countless ways with Make Life Count fundraising activities.

Last year proved to be a prosperous year for the charity, as it raised its most donations, reaching an astonishing $34,000. This brings the cummulative total raised over the past years to $189,000.

“I have a wonderful support system,” stated Ken. “My wife, Kari, has taken on so much to help me with my charity, and she is a big part of helping me with the marketing of it and the fundraising of it. My business partner, Jack Walker, is amazing. I have incredible friends; some of them work for me and have been with me for a long time. Our staff does great. I don’t even have to ask the staff to get involved. They just do it because they know the good that it does. It’s like a big family coming together for a huge cause.”

Ken recalls how his own immediate family came together to support him while he was experiencing his own cancer diagnosis. He credits his sisters, Cathy and Connie and his brother, David, for being there for him throughout his chemotherapy, various doctors’ appointments and work responsibilities.

Today, a decade after his own courageous battle with cancer, Ken is cancer-free. His enthusiastic commitment to the Tipsy Turtle Make Life Count Charity profoundly touches the lives of local men and women who are fighting the disease each day.

“I know that times are tough and money is hard to come by,” said Ken. “People are giving it up for this charity, and I swear that every cancer patient appreciates it.”

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