CancerConnects consulting executive director talks about her organization and its services it provides. In 2019 it served more than 2,500 cancer patients
By Mary Beth Roach
CancerConnects, Inc. started in 2006 to provide needed support and guidance to cancer patients while on their journey and to help facilitate connections to resources, whether it’s mentoring for the patient and caregiver, financial assistance or help in signing up for insurance. Maria Fibiger, consulting executive director, discusses the nonprofit’s mission and services.
Q: Can you describe some of the programs CancerConnects offers patients and caregivers?
A: There is the volunteer mentor program, which is where we match cancer patients with folks who have already been on their cancer journey or still might be. It’s a great way for people to talk through and navigate some of the difficulties. We match based on diagnosis or treatment. We have about 75 active volunteer mentors.
The other is the complimentary therapy program, where we provide free vouchers to patients throughout our area for therapy, such as massage, reiki, acupuncture, yoga therapy, reflexology. This in no way takes the place of traditional medicine, but it’s to help the whole mind-body spirit. Stress and anxiety are a really big part of cancer. We typically provide about 400 patients with complimentary therapies, about 2000 vouchers a year.
A new DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) Initiative will ensure people in CNY from various communities of color, socio-economic disparity, new American communities and specific rural areas with limited health care access, etc., have knowledge of and access to our breast cancer financial assistance program together with other supportive free programs offered, as well as cancer prevention health education.
There are also other programs — the Saint Agatha Foundation (a separate entity that CancerConnects partners with for financial grants for patients) and the Angel Fund, which is our program for all other types of cancer. We provide up to $500 in assistance and it could be anything from paying medical bills to getting them gift cards for nutritious groceries. We also provide gas cards through both of those programs, so people have transportation. Angel Fund is 100% donor funded from the CNY community. We typically spend $50,000 a year helping Angel Fund patients.
One thing we’ve made a priority is health insurance. We connect them with other organizations in Central New York that can get them signed up.
Q: What is your organization’s coverage area?
A: We serve adult cancer patients in primarily six counties: Onondaga, Oneida, Oswego, Madison, Cayuga, Cortland. But also provide services and programs for patients outside of those counties who may work or receive cancer treatment in one of those six counties. We work with all hospitals, medical facilities, etc.
Q: Is there a fee for the services?
A: Patients and their families receive all services for free.
Q: What kind of budget do you work with and how are you funded?
A: Our operating budget for 2021 is a little more than $1 million. Individual community donations, grants from community foundations and private foundations; two events each year that we host; and a handful of third-party fundraisers that others run and donate proceeds to CancerConnects. (Example: The Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer group from the east side on Onondaga County just ran its annual “Teed Off at Cancer” golf tournament to benefit our Angel Fund raising more than $10,000 in net proceeds, and the CNY Traveling Golf League just held its golf tournament and decided to donate proceeds of nearly $8,000 to the Angel Fund.)
Q: With the COVID-19 pandemic, how is CancerConnects providing services?
A: We have always done a tremendous amount of our work via phone and email. If we’re helping someone get financial assistance or pay a medical bill, we can do most of that over the phone.
Our complimentary therapy program did go on hiatus with only virtual complimentary therapy for a while. In June of this year, we brought it back in-person. That said, if the numbers continue to go in the direction they’re going in the Central New York region, we will be going back to virtual.
We have been paying for transportation to vaccination appointments. We will also do that for family members and caregivers to make sure that people around the patient are taken care of.
Q: How many people do you serve in a year?
A: We serve directly — comp therapy or our mentoring program or financial — about 2,500 a year. Indirectly, in a year when there isn’t COVID, when we’re able to get out into a lot of outreach and education programs, about 5,000.
Q: How would a patient or a loved one access help from CancerConnects?
A: Just call the office at 315-634-5004 (office phone). They can also go to the website. There’s also a “Contact Us” page on the website.