By Todd Cohen
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — With demand for services growing as patients become more aware of their options and more involved in their treatment, Cancer Services in Winston-Salem has expanded its programs, including a new interactive website featuring community and national resources.
“We just want to be the first place that individuals contact when they’re diagnosed with cancer,” says Tara Maxwell, executive director.
Nine million cancer survivors live in the U.S., and more than three in four Americans will be either personally diagnosed or affected by cancer in their lifetime, according to estimates by the National Cancer Institute, Maxwell says.
“Demand has increased,” she says. “The design of services is primarily dictated by established community and client needs. When a client identifies a need, since we’re a local nonprofit organization, we can create a way to meet that need very quickly.”
Patients, she says, now understand that “you can live fully beyond cancer.”
Founded in 1955 by local oncologists and serving Forsyth, Davie, Stokes and Yadkin counties, Cancer Services in 2003 served 16,000 clients, double the total five years earlier.
The number of clients receiving medication assistance alone in the first seven months of 2004 grew by half, compared to all of 2003.
With an annual budget of $750,000, double the budget five years earlier, Cancer Services employs 6 full-time staff and two part-time.
The agency in recent years has increased its range of services to meet growing demand by cancer patients and survivors for information and support, and to become more involved in their treatment and continued health, Maxwell says.
In 2000, for example, in addition to acquire medication, the agency began providing financial assistance on needs ranging from paying monthly bills to buying medical devices.
And in 2001, the agency created the position of “patient advocate” to serve as the first contact for a patient newly diagnosed with cancer.
The advocate, Linda Miller, talks to patients about issues such as how to get medications or deal with insurance companies or doctors.
Other programs the agency offers include support for cancer survivors; equipment, supplies, wigs and prostheses; peer support; a resource lending library; transportation assistance, mainly for radiation therapy; conversations for survivors featuring discussions group and talks by doctors; and community education featuring talks about prevention and early detection to civic groups, schools and religious congregations.
The new website at cancerservicesonline.org, designed by PAVE Creative Group, features a guide to community resources, articles on patient advocacy, links to national resources and news, and information on agency activities for patients.
Cancer Services receives 40 percent of its funding from local United Ways in the four counties, another 40 percent from foundations and the remaining 20 percent from individuals and special events, including a direct-mail appeal each December that last year netted $19,000 and a “Wrapped Up in Ribbons” auction each spring that this year netted $63,000.
The agency also depends on a core of volunteers that has tripled over three years to 350 individuals last year who contributed nearly 5,000 hours, freeing the staff to focus on helping clients deal with their treatment and survival, Maxwell says.
“When diagnosed with cancer, there’s so much a sense of losing control, so our goal is to help clients regain that sense of control and see themselves as part of their medical team,” she says. “They have a voice in this whole process.”