February 7, 2016

Iowa part of national lawsuit against phony cancer charities

Attorney General Tom Miller.

Attorney General Tom Miller.

All 50 states are part of a federal lawsuit against four phony cancer charities. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller discussed the case with reporters in his office today and said the operators are accused of scamming donors out of millions of dollars over several years.

Only roughly 5-percent of the money the charities collected ended up possibly helping cancer victims. “For the five year period, 2008 to 2012, they took in $187 million and paid out $5 million of that for legitimate charities,” Miller said.

The complaint alleges Cancer Fund of America, Children’s Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services and The Breast Cancer Society portrayed themselves to donors as legitimate charities.

But, according to Miller, the defendants primarily spent the money on themselves. “The money was used for extended family members’ salaries and some luxuries,” Miller said. “There was fraud in the telemarketing by others that was assisted by the charities. The charities did some telemarketing themselves and there was fraud in (that) telemarketing.”

The lawsuit alleges the telemarketers told donors their contributions would help provide pain medication to children suffering from cancer and pay for hospice care for cancer patients. Instead, the complaint alleges the defendants spent the donations on salaries, cruises, concert tickets, and dating site memberships, among other things. Miller said it’s doubtful all of the money that was donated to the phony charities can be recovered and directed to legitimate charities fighting cancer. “It’s not going to approach $187 million, but we’ll get everything that we can,” Miller said. “We also think that suing the individual personally is an important part of the remedy and deterrent.”

The complaint names Cancer Fund of America Inc., Cancer Support Services Inc., the president of these two corporations, James Reynolds Sr., as well as the CFO of both and the former president of Cancer Support Services, Kyle Effler; Children’s Cancer Fund of America Inc., and its president and executive director Rose Perkins; and The Breast Cancer Society Inc., and its executive director and former president, James Reynolds II.


Above and Beyond Cancer to raise funds for Nepal earthquake relief

Above and Beyond Cancer group in Nepal in 2011.

Above and Beyond Cancer group in Nepal in 2011.

An Iowa-based group called Above and Beyond Cancer is turning its attention to earthquake victims in Nepal. Brad Anderson is a spokesperson for the organization headquartered in Des Moines.

Above and Beyond Cancer is based in Iowa, but was really born in Nepal when we took 14 cancer survivors on a journey to Mount Everest base camp in 2011,” Anderson says. “We’ve been to Nepal twice and have made some incredibly close friends in the region, many of whom are now homeless.”

The earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 is blamed for 7,250 deaths, while more than 14,000 were injured. The quake destroyed or badly damaged nearly 300,000 homes. Above and Beyond Cancer has organized a concert to benefit the citizens of Nepal. The event, featuring three bands, is scheduled for this evening and all of the proceeds will go to the nonprofit AmeriCares.

Anderson says they chose AmeriCares because the organization has a “team on the ground” in Nepal. “For example, right now, the people of Nepal…a lot of them are forced to sleep together in tent communities and so AmeriCares is offering vaccines, tetanus shots, and important medical services to basically help keep diseases from spreading throughout the region,” Anderson says.

Tonight’s benefit concert is taking place at the Des Moines Social Club starting at 5 p.m. General admission tickets to the event are $20.15, while VIP tickets are $201.50.


Bar and restaurant coasters used to start conversation about cancer screening


Coaster touting colorectal exams.

The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is partnering with beverage distributors for the second year in a row to help get drink coasters promoting colorectal cancer screenings into bars and restaurants.

IDPH’s Jeanna Jones says the campaign began as a light-hearted way to bring up an issue that some people find difficult to discuss.

“We use it as a way to reach out to individuals who might be kind of in a captive audience in a bar or restaurant where it was a relaxed environment that would get people talking about screening,” Jones says. “We originally created two different designs a trivia question and included some information to reduce your risks and screening options.” One of the coasters says, “Bottoms up, it’s time for your colorectal exam.”

Information on the back of the coasters.

Information on the back of the coasters.

Jones says they hope this approach will help people start the conversation. “Because we know that colorectal cancer is kind of one of those subjects or a disease that people really don’t want to talk about. We’re hoping it will kind of give them enough information that if their physician hasn’t talked to them that they might ask their physician ‘do I need to get screened?’,” Jones says.

She says having the coasters in bars also puts part the focus on the male population, which is an audience that is sometimes hard to reach. “And we figured maybe those farmers who are coming in from the field and going into kind of a community tavern, and would maybe having a beer, would be a good audience,” Jones says. The campaign started with Doll Distributing in Des Moines — which got the coasters into 300 bars and restaurants last year. And this year they added Fahr Beverage in Waterloo.


These type coasters will be showing up in bars and restaurants in eastern Iowa.

Jones says getting the conversation going about colorectal cancer is especially important. “Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Iowa and the nation. And it is one of the most preventable cancers,” Jones explains. She says Iowa has the fifth highest percentage of late-stage colorectal cancer diagnoses, and the late stage diagnoses makes the cancer more difficult to treat. The cancer is 90 percent treatable if it is caught early.

Jones says they hope once the conversation gets started in the restaurants and bars, it will get people to talk with family members about the issue too. “Because if people have a family history or precancerous polyps, then we want people to know that, because we want them to begin screening earlier,” Jones says. To learn more about the Iowa Get Screened Program, visit:  www.idph.state.ia.us/IGS.


Iowa Senate approves teen tanning bed ban

Mark Chelgren

Mark Chelgren

By a slim margin, the Iowa Senate has passed a bill that would ban minors from using commercial tanning beds. Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said using a tanning bed is a “dangerous practice” that can be “just as dangerous as smoking.”

“As senators, we vote on a lot of bills, but I don’t think there are that many bills that we have an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives like this one is,” Dotzler said.

Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, voted against the bill.

“I believe this is something parents should have some say in,” Chelgren said. “Their opinion on what their kids can do means at least as much as our opinion in this room.”

Chelgren said he’s fair-skinned, but didn’t burn as a kid growing up on the west coast because he got what he calls a “base tan.”

“It is not a case of ‘base tanning’ causing the problem, day-to-day tanning causing the problems. ” Chelgren said. “The case and the problem is the burning. It is the excessive use of ultraviolent light whether it be in the sunshine or whether it be in a tanning bed facility that causes the damage to the skin.”

Bill Dotzler

Bill Dotzler

Dotzler said doctors tell him people who have used a tanning bed before the age of 35 have increased their chances of being diagnosed with melanoma by 75 percent.

“We have an opportunity here, ladies and gentlemen of the senate, to maybe stop a few cases — not all of ’em — but we can stop a few cases by the passage of this legislation and maybe save some lives in the state of Iowa,” Dotzler said.

The bill passed on a narrow, 26-23 vote. A similar bill has cleared a House committee and is eligible for debate in the full House.

Senator Grassley proposes commission to focus on ending breast cancer

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

Breast cancer would be eliminated by the end of the decade under legislation being introduced by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. It comes on the heels of a report released at the University of Iowa last week that names breast cancer as the number-one cancer to strike Iowa women and the number-two cancer killer.

“The bill would establish a commission to accelerate the end of breast cancer,” Grassley says. “That’s the title of the commission, the Commission to Accelerate the End of Breast Cancer, to help end breast cancer by a target date of 2020.”

Grassley says there are many fine organizations, charities and research facilities that are pursuing a common goal but they need to be better assembled to work as a unit. His bill, which he says has bi-partisan support, will forge new relationships in the fight against the disease. “It would encourage partnerships between the public and private sectors,” Grassley says, “and it would create opportunities for collaboration across disciplines that might advance the mission of ending breast cancer.”

He notes, the commission would be subject to termination if it doesn’t show progress. Grassley says his legislation would not attempt to replace or revamp agencies like the American Cancer Society or the Susan G. Komen Foundation, but it aims to see them work together more closely. Grassley says, “There is some redundancy but it brings attention to the issue and it brings together in one place all the research that’s going on to know that the research that’s going on is accomplishing the purpose, can it be better directed and emphasis upon the biggest breakthroughs in the fight against breast cancer.”

Grassley’s wife, Barbara, is a 28-year breast cancer survivor. He says, “This issue is personal to me and really, it’s personal to all of us.” The “Cancer In Iowa” report estimates 22,050 breast cancer cases will be diagnosed in Iowa women this year and 390 women will die from it. It says breast cancer is the number-two cancer killer of Iowa women behind only lung cancer.



Report shows lung cancer the top killer of Iowans

Skin melanoma.

Skin melanoma.

The annual “Cancer in Iowa” report doesn’t show a lot of change in the numbers when it comes to projected new cases of cancer and cancer deaths this year.

The report is compiled by the State Health Registry of Iowa based in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, where Mary Charlton is an assistant professor of epidemiology.

“It’s relatively stable since last year, our projections are about the same with those numbers,” Charlton says. “Over the last several years though the 16-thousand-900 new cases of cancer have come down a little bit from our projections in 2012 through 2014. Cancer deaths have been stable the last few years, with our projections right at 6,400. And those projections have remains relatively unchanged over the last several years.”

Charlton says better treatment for some types of cancer is part of the reason the numbers have stabilized. She says fore example, treatments for breast cancer have improve and caused the death rate to remain similar. Charlton says they’ve stopped screening as much as they used to for prostate cancer, which means they aren’t finding as many new cases. Lung cancer remains the biggest killer for men and women.

“One out of every four cancer deaths is due to lung cancer, so it’s definitely one of the more deadly cancers, even though it’s not as common as prostate or breast cancer,” according to Charlton. While smoking rates have dropped in the state, Charlton says the odorless, colorless gas called radon has kept lung cancer a concern. “That’s a particular issue here in Iowa. I think people have started to become more and more aware of this issue,” Charlton says. “But people can have relatively high levels of radon in their homes, especially with the newer homes that are built. They are tighter and keep more air inside — as opposed to older, draftier homes that kind of let that gas out. So, radon is another important risk factor to consider with lung cancer.”

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death for women behind lung cancer — while prostate cancer is second in men behind lung cancer. Charlton says an increasing concern in the study is the number of cases of skin melanoma. “That’s one of the fastest growing cancers in Iowa, and in fact, since the mid-1970s the incidents have quadrupled to the recent time period. So that’s been a major thing to keep our eye on,” Charlton says. Charlton says some of the increase can be attributed to changes in the way melanoma is reported.

She says it’s important to educate Iowans about the problem as it’s one of the most preventable forms of cancer. “Up to 90-percent of melanoma cases are due to ultraviolet light exposure which can obviously be minimized through use of sun screen or protective clothing and not using tanning beds, things like that,” Charlton says. “But for those who are diagnosed with advance melanoma that has already spread, the five-year survival rate for that is only 13-percent. And there hasn’t been a lot of progress made, as it’s very difficult to treat at that stage.” Melanoma rates are highest among older adults, but it is the third most common cancer in kids and young adults.

To see the full report, go to the U-I College of Public Health’s website at: www.public-health.uiowa.edu.


Restitution begins for mother who faked daughter’s cancer to collect donations

Leatha Slauson

Leatha Slauson

A restitution hearing was held this afternoon in the case of a southwest Iowa woman who falsely claimed her 5-year-old daughter had cancer and then raised money for her treatment.

Fourth District Court Judge Greg Steensland presided over the hearing for 30-year-old Leatha Slauson of Atlantic. Slauson was unable to make it to attend due to the weather, but she was represented by her lawyer, Jay Mez.

Six people testified at the hearing and provided evidence to the judge of how much they had contributed to Slauson, or the “Super Riley Fund” set up for her daughter. Most presented photocopies of checks, but one woman presented credit card statements. The amounts claimed ranged from $200 to over $3,000. Judge Steensland, Mez and Cass County Attorney David Wiederstein agreed to accept the claims. Now it’s up to the judge to determine how much each person or organization will receive.

Wiederstein noted the total victim restitution amounts to $35,964 and $3,000 has been returned in the form of an RV that was used, leaving a balance of $32,964. But, the amount of funds available to distribute equals just $15,920. Judge Wiederstein said since the amount of claims exceed the available funds, it puts him in a a predicament.

“We’ve already had a situation where we’re trying to figure out what to do with money that shouldn’t have been given out in the first place. As a judge, I cannot exacerbate that by giving out funds that I can’t track,” Wiederstein said. He said he would reimburse those funds that he thinks are provable, in the form of a court order.

Slauson was sentenced to 5 years probation in January and was ordered to continue mental health treatment and not have contact with her 5 children unless requested by her therapist. In November, she pled guilty to charges of child endangerment, administering harmful substances, theft and unlawful possession of a prescription drug.

(Reporting by Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic)