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 in late 2021 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 in the past year.
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. 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. Since COVID however, CSC determined they could achieve a significant level of care through intentional videos. CSC thus chose to use the Survivor Circle Grant to develop a series of introductory videos focusing on how supportive care can improve their participants’ lives.
Three videos were created: “What to Expect at The Cancer Support Center,” “Why Supportive Care is so Valuable,” and “What Supportive Oncology Care is and How it Can Help.” These videos are housed on CSC’s YouTube page, as well as embedded in their website at strategic points of entry for interested participants. Opportunities are abundant as CSC continues to find new ways to share the videos and spread the message of CSC and the importance of psychosocial oncology care. Challenges included staff ease in front of the camera, ensuring that scripts encompassed the wide range of topics associated with each area and needing to be engaging and concise.
Funds were spent on staff time (Executive Director, Marketing Manager, Marketing Coordinator for development of the video content and marketing; Executive Director, Clinical Program Director, Program Manager, Program Navigator and two staff therapists to rehearse and shoot the video content) and Videographer.
This project has made it easier than ever for CSC to share who they are, what they do and why it is important. They have already utilized the video content on their website, social media platforms and in presentations with external partners. From introductory presentations about CSC to hospitals and businesses, to hospital staff sharing with patients — the reach is vast. CSC had heard that it is difficult for participants to think about coming to CSC, and the video series is helpful to bridge the gap of conveying what to expect. For example, hospital staff shares the video with patients or upper management to communicate CSC as a resource or to explain the importance of psychosocial care in general. The full potential of the videos’ reach is still being discovered, and they anticipate using them for years to come to encourage higher participation and referrals, and also to incorporate psychosocial care into the experience of all cancer patients.
Similarly, the LivingWell Cancer Resource Center, the other recipient of the 2021 Survivor Circle Grant, 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. When rides are not available, patients often have no choice but to cancel their appointments, delaying much-needed care.
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. From November 2021 through October 2022, LivingWell funded a total of 175 rides, totaling almost $7,000. The average ride distance was 12 miles, with the furthest distance traveled as 49 miles, to various Northwestern Medicine Cancer Centers.
Alongside the grant, LivingWell 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. However, the limited number of available drivers has been an obstacle, as the demand for rides far outpaces the availability of drivers. The program has not yet been piloted for the DeKalb community, and because of these challenges, ASTRO funding has been instrumental in providing access for patients to receive care. The social work team works with patients to determine alternative options to support visits for patients’ long-term medical needs, including investigating family, friends and community resources to provide rides along with assessing the patient’s health plan to see if transportation might be included in their coverage. If not, the team often works with the patients to change to a plan that includes this coverage without sacrificing medical coverage for care.
Through the year, LivingWell’s social work team made every effort to exhaust every other possible resource before considering Uber Health as an option. To offset the cost of inflation and increasing gas prices, LivingWell will use remaining funds to purchase $25 gas cards, which will help 130 patients through the remainder of 2022.
The Cancer Support Center and LivingWell Cancer Resource Center have used their funds to multiply their impact. Similarly, we encourage cancer support organizations in next year’s Annual Meeting state, California, to consider how they too might strengthen their support. Applications will open up in January 2023 and be due in the spring. For questions, contact Beth Bukata.
Read about the 2022 Texas-based Survivor Circle grant recipients.