By Jennifer Jang, ASTRO Communications
Two Chicago-area organizations, Cancer Support Center and LivingWell Cancer Resource Center, were selected as ASTRO’s 2021 Survivor Circle grant winners for the services they provide to cancer patients, their families and caregivers. Each organization received a $10,000 grant late last year and were honored at the 63rd Annual Meeting in Chicago. Specifically, the Survivor Circle Grant Program provides financial gifts to two cancer support organizations in the state hosting ASTRO’s Annual Meeting. ASTRO followed up with both organizations to learn more about how the grants provided tangible aid since last fall.
The Cancer Support Center (CSC), located in Chicago, is a community-based non-profit organization with two facilities in Chicago’s Southland neighborhoods of Homewood and Mokena. CSC serves anyone seeking oncology care and focuses on a health equity initiative providing services to communities of color with high cancer morbidity rates. According to Executive Director Sue Armato, CSC uses the Five Point Model of Cancer Care, which comprises Counseling/Stress Management, Education, Nutrition, Fitness and Body Image. “Navigators,” as they call their providers, address these points at the first meeting, when the first time “participants,” as they call their clients, come in the door.
Pre-COVID-19, when a cancer patient came to CSC, they immediately met with a program navigator who began the patient support process. “We thought in person was best,” Ms. Armato said. But since COVID, they discovered that “We actually can achieve the same level of care through well-made and intentional videos.” To respond to this need, CSC chose to use the grant to develop a series of introductory videos focusing on how supportive care can improve their participants’ lives.
To date, CSC now has ready the "story" content outline for each of the three videos, identified who will be filmed and developed standard slide content. They have secured a videographer/filmmaker who understands CSC’s important work and has done previous work for them successfully. The videos will be produced this month, with the goal of having them ready for distribution and sharing by June 5, National Cancer Survivors Day. CSC has spent only a quarter of the funds thus far, limited to the development of video content and deposit for videographer. Once the remainder of the funds is spent on video development and release, CSC anticipates vast impact on future clients. After all, the videos’ reach will widen the opportunity to explain the need for supportive oncology and why it is such an important part of any cancer journey. The videos will explore how CSC supports cancer patients and what one can expect when they seek supports and resources, which will help to demystify the supportive oncology process.
Expanding their reach, CSC will share these videos on their website and with eight hospital partners along with oncology centers throughout their service area. CSC is also developing a partnership with the local community college where they will develop programs for supportive oncology care, sharing these videos as part of that effort. CSC looks forward to showing these videos ultimately to help newly diagnosed individuals, so that they may know the importance of supportive care and, for those who have been on a longer cancer journey, that CSC is a resource for them too.
Similarly, the LivingWell Cancer Resource Center, the other recipient of the 2021 Survivor Circle Grant, has also expanded their breadth of reach using the new funding, but in a more physical way. Upon receiving the funding, their social work team mobilized to support patients needing transportation to and from appointments. The grant removed a barrier to patient care in the most practical way, as many LivingWell participants tend to rely on rides from family, friends or caregivers, often scheduling appointments based on when they will have reliable rides. When rides are not available, patients often have no choice but to cancel their appointments, delaying much-needed care.
From mid-November 2021 through March 2022, LivingWell provided 51 rides, totaling $1,165. The average mileage per ride was 12.5 miles, with the longest distance being 32 miles. The majority of rides was associated with Northwestern Medicine Warrenville Cancer Center (86%), while a smaller portion was for centers in Geneva and DeKalb. To ensure grant funding was used with discretion, LivingWell social workers coordinated the rides.
The Survivor Circle Grant has helped LivingWell Cancer Resource Center reinforce their efforts to provide a foundational component of their purpose, increasing access to care. Alongside the grant, LivingWell has bolstered their efforts with other partnerships, including the American Cancer Society, which is piloting its Road to Recovery program, using community volunteers to provide rides in DuPage and Kane counties. Limitations to the pilot include the requirements that both volunteers and patients must be based in DuPage or Kane counties to participate. To compensate for this limitation, the funds from ASTRO have helped to support Uber Health, funding transportation for patients when free rides were unavailable otherwise. The grant has enabled the social workers to ensure patients are able to keep their appointments. However, the challenge of securing Uber rides remains for the DeKalb community due to a lack of available drivers. To address this issue, LivingWell has identified three local vendors, Non-Emergency Wheelchair Transport, New Era Non-Medical Transportation and Hail a Taxi, to provide future assistance for patient transportation needs. These new vendors will help provide available drivers for any future patient need and allow for the remaining funds of the grant to be used in a meaningful way.
The Cancer Support Center and LivingWell Cancer Resource Center Community have used their funds to multiply their impact. Similarly, we encourage cancer support organizations in this year’s Annual Meeting state, Texas, to consider how they too might strengthen their support. To be considered, please apply by this Friday, May 13. For questions, contact Beth Bukata.