Virginia Oncology Associates
Every cancer patient has one characteristic in common: they’re anxious. The Cancer Care Foundation of Tidewater (CCFOT) exists to help ease those fears.
Rather than focus on medical needs, the 20-year-old nonprofit offers companionship, comfort and emotional support during treatments through its “Acts of Kindness” initiative. Its Direct Patient Assistant Program, meanwhile, covers non-medical expenses ranging from utility and fuel bills to school supplies and birthday parties.
On a daily basis, CCFOT volunteers bring snacks, sandwiches, sweets and drinks to patients at Virginia Oncology Associates’ (VOA) eight regional infusion centers. The treats are a perfect opening for conversations, laughter or shared tears, and often lasting friendships.
“Our patients really look forward to this interaction,” says Edward R. George, MD, a VOA hematologist/oncologist. “Enjoyable conversation and provisions have proven to be a wonderful, familiar, and calming experience. We are so grateful for the warming touch that CCFOT has provided.”
CCFOT works with all cancer patients, regardless of financial circumstances, age, gender, or disease type or stage. The majority of its 230 volunteers have either been cancer patients or watched a loved one go through therapy. In fact, a VOA breast cancer patient initially raised the idea to her physician, Dr. Robert Burger, who helped found CCFOT in 2001.
“Vulnerability is the tie that binds us all together,” says Executive Director Tricia Izard, who lost her father to leukemia. “It opens people’s hearts to each other, which is so beautiful to see. This is very meaningful work.”
Volunteers usually arrive in teams of three or four. CCFOT provides staples such as cheese crackers, potato chips, pudding and applesauce, while individuals throw in sandwiches, cookies and other personalized additions. One popular team is known for bringing Chick-fil-A.
CCFOT asks each volunteer to commit to at least six months of service, enough time to form bonds with patients. Many have continued for 15-plus years.
“They’ve demonstrated an amazing ability to help patients and staff envision better days through their acts of kindness,” reports Roshonda Poole, MSW, CDP, a social worker at VOA. “With their unwavering emotional support, our patients experience a sense of comfort during their visits to our practice.”
Under CCFOT’s Direct Patient Assistance Program, Izard receives referrals of patients struggling with practical expenses from licensed clinical social workers and nurses throughout the region. Candidates can be from VOA or outside the practice.
Humanitarian grants most often cover utility bills, but they are tailored very specifically to each recipient. One patient couldn’t afford an exterminator to rid her home of bedbugs, for example. When a mother was too sick to organize her kindergartner’s birthday party, CCFOT arranged a celebration with a firetruck at her house.
Many patients have benefitted nutritionally from a steady supply of free Ensure. Others have gotten assistance with items such as hygiene supplies and dentures, emergency call systems or last-minute taxi fare, backpacks and school clothes for kids, and moving expenses so they can relocate near family.
“CCFOT has been a ray of hope for cancer patients who need help,” says Scott Kruger, MD, a medical oncologist/hematologist with VOA. “They have worked with local hospice agencies to help make a patient’s life easier. They help members of our community live with dignity and provide kindness during one of the most difficult times in their life.”
Additionally, CCFOT funds B.E.A.C.H. Buddy (Be A Cancer/Hematology Buddy), a program that pairs students at Eastern Virginia Medical School with children and teenagers in treatment at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.
B.E.A.C.H. Buddy events have included games of laser tag, arcade play at Dave & Buster’s, and Halloween outings to Hunt Club Farm, along with quieter alternatives such as cookie decorating and board games. “It brings a lot of joy to the kids, and it also trains the next generation of doctors in emotional support of their patients,” Izard notes.
While the coronavirus pandemic has put many CCFOT efforts on hold, the nonprofit only plans to grow. Starting next year, its base will be the new Sentara Brock Cancer Center in Norfolk, which will bring together caregiving teams from EVMS, Sentara Medical Group and VOA.
“We’ll be able to connect with even more patients,” Izard relates. “Treating the ‘whole patient’ – meeting both medical and emotional needs – was once pretty forward-thinking, but today we know just how essential it is to healing.”
For more information, visit ccfot.org or call (757) 461-8488.