January of 2024, the Paternostro Cancer Foundation achieved a new milestone by delivering its 1,000th Harnessing Hope care bag. This is just one of many highlights in the organization’s 12-year history. Each new achievement in cancer-patient support spreads the love and light of a very special father and daughter.

Paternostro Krista

The Paternostro Cancer Foundation’s steadfast dedication to patients at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Williamsport has been the key to its success, according to Krista Paternostro Bower, MPA, CAE, chairman and founder of the Foundation. With four impactful programs, the organization makes a difference every day in honor of Krista’s late sister and father.

The Paternostro family launched the Team Kass Foundation in 2013 to honor the life and memory of Kathleen Paternostro Morgan. “Kass was a vibrant 39-year-old woman living a full life when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2011,” says Krista. “Watching her fight cancer, sitting next to her, and holding her hand through the toughest moments life can serve up forever changed me. Kass was the epitome of grace, faith, and hope along her cancer journey. Our conversations during that time are forever embedded in my heart.” Krista was overwhelmed with the new reality she and her family faced. She did not know what to do, who to talk to, or how to navigate it. At that time, she felt incredibly lost.

Dad and Kass2

In the weeks leading up to Kass’ passing, Krista shared the idea of creating a cancer foundation with her sister. Kass encouraged Krista to do it. “My heart tells me she saw it as a vehicle for her daughter, Josie, who was only four at the time, to always remember her,” she says.

The family patriarch, Thomas Paternostro, worked tirelessly on Team Kass initiatives and was one of its chief fundraisers and advocates. “Our dad was the one person we all leaned on during that time. His unwavering faith in God and Heaven, and his strength and conviction that we could make it through these rough waters, helped us all to heal,” says Krista.

Very unexpectedly, Thomas passed away just three days after receiving his own cancer diagnosis in September 2014. “He was a great man, a devoted and loving father who was passionate about life,” says Krista. “He taught me, through his life of service, what it means to make a difference.”

When her father passed away, Krista wondered if she and the family could keep Team Kass going. Instead of giving up, she drew upon the strength and perseverance she had learned from her father and championed on. She remembered one of his frequent sayings: “When the doors no longer open, try the windows.”

The family decided to expand the Foundation’s mission and purpose, and they renamed it the Paternostro Family Foundation in 2015. From their grief sprang new directions for the Foundation. Honoring them together in this way made a beautiful tribute to a beloved father and daughter, Thomas and Kass. As the organization grew in outreach within the community, the name changed once more in 2019 to the Paternostro Cancer Foundation.

With well-earned pride, Krista extolls the wonderful programs that the Foundation provides to cancer patients and their families. When first formed, the Team Kass Foundation focused primarily on supporting mothers with young children in honor of Kass’ fight. It evolved over the years to meet even more needs of cancer patients in the community. When the American Cancer Society was forced to reduce its services and eventually close its local office, the Foundation took the initiative to assist both patients currently undergoing treatment and those who have completed treatment.

When COVID-19 hit, the Foundation was there with accelerated support for financial assistance. “Our trusted relationship with the [UPMC Hillman] Cancer Center fosters honest conversations regarding patient needs, and as needs change, we try to find a way to fill that gap,” Krista says.

Paternostro Krista and Mom

“I know that we all suffer loss in this life. I have always been a believer that everyone has a story. For me, losing Kass followed by the unexpected loss of our dad truly changed who I am and the direction and shape of my life,” says Krista. “Kass’ beautiful life inspired me to do this work. Our dad’s life was a powerful example of service and excellence that showed me how to be successful.”

In her day job, Krista is the CEO of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants based in Alexandria, Va. As busy as she is, she still makes time to helm the Foundation, which is completely volunteer-operated. It is a lot of work but deeply rewarding. Community support for their four programs has been heartwarming. The cards and letters received from the families they have helped over the years keep Krista and her team committed and energized. Connecting meaningfully with so many people during their own unique cancer journeys never fails to inspire Krista. “Cancer is how we met, but love and mutual understanding are how and why we’re forever bonded.”

Susquehanna Health Foundation is beyond grateful to the Paternostro Cancer Foundation for its donations and support of our patients. The Paternostro Cancer Foundation’s partnership with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Williamsport has left a lasting impact on the lives of so many patients and their families.

Paternostro Cancer Foundation Programs

Harnessing Hope Bags: Since 2014, the Foundation has been delivering cancer care bags to newly diagnosed patients at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Williamsport. The idea for this program came from Krista’s mother, who observed that Kass liked to have certain things with her when she went to treatments, particularly chemotherapy. The program has distributed more than 1,000 bags since its inception.

Rikki Feerrar for Essence of You

Essence of You: In 2021, the Paternostro Cancer Foundation partnered with Susquehanna Health Foundation to provide health and wellness sessions six times a year for patients receiving cancer care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Williamsport. What began as a Zoom program during COVID-19 has evolved into impactful in-person sessions.

Essence of You

K-2 Head Covers: Since 2019, the Foundation has partnered with Arrow & Thread Handmade Designs to provide two free custom-made head covers for cancer patients. These garments mean so much to patients experiencing hair loss as a result of their cancer treatment, particularly women.

Utility Assistance: Since 2015, the Paternostro Cancer Foundation has made direct payments to utility companies on behalf of local families in need of financial assistance. The patient navigator at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Williamsport connects patients who qualify for the program with the Foundation. To date, this program has provided more than $94,000 in direct support to more than 425 local families.