Kelly “KK” Henning was in cosmetology school when she met Karen Whilhite-Williams, who was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for triple negative breast cancer. During her treatment at Oncology Hematology Associates (OHA) in Evansville, IN, Karen appreciated the company and support provided by her sister, Jill Kincaid, but was distressed to see other patients all alone. Soon, Jill became a “chemo buddy” to all of the patients taking chemo on Karen’s treatment days, getting them a drink or a blanket and chatting to help pass the long hours of sitting with needles in their arms.
Karen and Jill had a dream of expanding this idea. Although Karen lost her battle with cancer in July 2011, before she could see the dream come to life, Jill pursued their vision. She launched Chemo Buddies just one month after her sister’s death, with an apt mission statement: “Because no one should ever have to go through chemo alone.” Now volunteers are permitted in OHA’s chemo room to sit with patients; they also serve at the Chancellor Center for Oncology at Deaconess Gateway. In addition to offering patients company and friendship, Chemo Buddies provides extras like blankets, caps, books, games and healthy snacks.
Meanwhile, as KK Henning was pursuing her career and joining the team at Off the Top Salon in Evansville, she stayed in touch with Karen and Jill and got involved with Chemo Buddies. Henning has remained committed to the organization in the three years since Karen’s death and this year nominated Chemo Buddies for the Wella Supports Your Cause Hairdressers At Heart Charity Challenge. Henning was thrilled when Chemo Buddies was named winner of the $10,000 grand prize.
“I’m so proud to be able to present this award to Kelly on behalf of Wella,” Wella Regional Business Manager Michele Long said in announcing the top honor. “Her outstanding efforts in rallying her salon and community to vote for her entry in the Charity Challenge were second to none. Our program was designed to empower passionate individuals to make a bigger impact on people’s lives and to raise awareness about important causes such as Chemo Buddies.”
Sharing Henning's win with an Evansville radio station website, blogger Ashley Sollars congratulated Henning and Chemo Buddies. She wrote, “On a personal note, I’ve been friends, co-workers and now a client of KK for many, many years, and not only is she amazing at what she does but she has the most giving heart. I love my time in the chair with Kelly, and I’m so glad she had the honor of passing along this check to such a great local charity as Chemo Buddies.”