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Gulf & Main Magazine

Barbara’s Friends Fulfills a Promise: The Cancer Fund Vowed 25 Years Ago to Help Southwest Florida Children

Nov 23, 2020 05:00PM ● By AMY FRITH

In 1995, as 36-year-old Barbara Haskell was terminally ill, she was inspired by the spirit and tenacity of children she met who also had cancer. She asked her parents, Betty and Frank Haskell of Fort Myers, to promise to help kids with cancer after she was gone.

The Haskells founded Barbara’s Friends in her name with an initial goal of raising $100,000. Twenty-five years later, more than $20 million has been raised—funding equipment, staffing and services to help 10,000 Southwest Florida children with cancer or life-threatening blood disorders. 

Thanks to the support of Barbara’s Friends, no child is denied treatment at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida because of a family’s inability to pay for care. More than half of the children treated for cancer at Golisano are uninsured, on Medicaid or have no form of payment. Barbara’s Friends helps provide all possible resources from medication to transportation, gas cards for families to get to and from treatment, meals for the parents when a child is staying overnight so they don’t have to leave their bedside, as well as a state-of-the-art facility, equipment, medical supplies, therapy and staffing. 

Pediatric cancer outcomes are more hopeful in 2020. Sixty years ago, a child diagnosed with cancer had a 10 percent chance of survival. Today at Golisano, children have an 84 percent survival rate—higher than the national average. The hospital is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group, which allows it to share research and clinical trials and access the latest information as it becomes available from other top centers of excellence. 

A quarter century of success has encouraged Barbara’s Friends to continue to improve treatment and outcomes for area children, including:

  • Expanding the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) program for patients ages 15-30 diagnosed with pediatric cancers, who benefit from pediatric instead of adult care.
  • Building the Infusion Clinic at the Golisano Children’s Healthcare Center of Naples for treatment of pediatric cancer patients in Collier County.
  • Launching the Barbara’s Friends college scholarship fund to ensure that children fighting pediatric cancer can complete their education.

Barbara Haskell’s dream to make lives better for children with cancer is embodied in the Barbara’s Friends rainbow logo that celebrates her love of the classic film, The Wizard of Oz and the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Her father, Frank, sees Barbara in every rainbow and her legacy in Barbara’s Friends. 

“Losing a child of your own before you go is a devastating thing to have happened,” says Frank, who at age 90 is still raising money for the fund. “This has kept Barbara’s life ongoing. I think of her every single day.”

For more information about Barbara’s Friends, visit:

Amy Frith, director of Barbara’s Friends, is a former local television news anchor who loves connecting people, resources and philanthropic missions with the hope of changing lives and leaving the world a better place.