One of the burdens that accompanies a cancer diagnosis is the high cost of treatment. Many factors determine how much cancer treatment will cost, such as the type of cancer, length of treatment, location and proximity to a treatment facility, and whether a patient has health insurance and supplemental health insurance. While some costs are obvious, like charges for doctor appointments and medications, others such as transportation expenses or loss of income might be unexpected.
A 2018 article from AARP explains just how overwhelming the expense of cancer treatment can be. The average price for cancer treatment in the U.S. is around $150,000. Even with insurance, a patient is likely to pay out $4,000 in deductibles and copays in a year. As a result, cancer patients are 2.5 times as likely to declare bankruptcy as healthy patients. More worryingly, patients who end up declaring bankruptcy are 80% more likely to succumb to cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, Georgia will have gained an estimated 55,190 new cases of cancer during 2020, leading to an estimated 17,990 deaths. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in our state, with the most common types being lung and colon cancer. These numbers are unsurprising given that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men in the U.S. will develop cancer during their lifetime.
These statistics are frightening, but there is hope. Recently, I sat down with Cheryl Johnson, the president of West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition (WCGCC), to discuss her organization’s impact on our community.
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West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition: Connecting Patients With Resources
When I asked Cheryl to explain what WCGCC does, she mentioned two hurdles cancer patients face—financial costs and access to care. “The burdens that are there are sometimes financial burdens,” she explained, “and that’s what we try to eliminate. Sometimes the burden is access to care. We try to get patients connected to the right place and the right people.”
One way WCGCC alleviates financial burdens for patients is through their “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” Cancer Assistance Fund for patients currently undergoing cancer treatment. Money from this fund makes a big difference for the patients who receive it, helping to keep the lights on at home or cover gas when they drive to appointments. It’s supported through donations, grants, and fundraisers, such as Georgia’s Breast Cancer License Tag program and the annual Paint the Town Pink 5k Walk/Run.
An equally challenging burden for rural Georgians is access to care. WCGCC covers 13 counties in west Georgia and East Alabama, and many of these rural areas simply lack the population to support local healthcare providers. For patients like these, Cheryl explains that “transportation may be an issue for them to get a screening done or for them to get services done. So, for example, if there are women that have to get their mammograms done and they don’t have transportation, then we try to reduce that burden of getting them transportation from areas that don’t have local healthcare.”
Not Letting The River Divide Us
Although the name of WCGCC implies it is exclusively for residents of Georgia, Cheryl clarified that the organization really serves the greater Chattahoochee Valley. As the organization developed, the WCGCC team began recognizing how many people they served who had ties to both Alabama and Georgia. Some patients might live in one state, but work in the other. Other patients might live in Alabama, but receive medical treatment or health insurance in Georgia.
Cheryl explained, “Our tagline is neighbors helping neighbors…so several years ago we decided we could not allow the river to divide us as it relates to cancer.”
Once it became clear that their organization’s mission cut across state lines, WCGCC began offering support to residents of east Alabama, financing this support through donations and grants (any funding received from the state of Georgia is reserved for Georgia residents).
A Partner From Screening Through Treatment And Beyond
WCGCC works toward its mission of reducing the burden of cancer through four pillars of support: screenings, navigation, advocacy, and education. In effect, these pillars represent each stage of the cancer treatment journey, from diagnosis to treatment and post-treatment recovery.
Many of the screening events the organization hosts target people who are uninsured or under-insured and, therefore, may not have access to regular check-ups. Screenings are an essential part of reducing cancer deaths because early detection can dramatically increase a patient’s chance of survival. It can also reduce the length of treatment necessary to fight cancer, which is why screening events are so important to WCGCC’s mission.
When a routine screening finds something, navigating the healthcare system can be challenging. Anyone who has ever received a serious diagnosis (whether of cancer or of something else) can understand the struggle of figuring out the complex maze of medical terminology, tests and scans, and multiple appointments. WCGCC works to simplify things for patients by putting them in touch with doctors, scheduling appointments, and providing financial assistance as needed so patients can move smoothly from detection to treatment.
Health fairs and education sessions are another important part of WCGCC’s mission. Often, they happen alongside screenings. But education also happens as patients move through the process of detection and treatment. During this process, WCGCC helps patients learn more about topics like treatment options, nutrition, and lifestyle changes that can benefit them.
Even after patients have completed treatment, educational support continues through WCGCC’s Survivorship program. Cancer treatment is hard on patients’ bodies, so this program assists patients in fully recovering their health through lifestyle changes. Participants may receive gym memberships or one-on-one sessions with personal trainers, as well as tips on healthy eating and other ways to come back healthier and stronger. These changes also help reduce their risks of developing cancer again.
Education is such an important part of WCGCC’s mission that the organization recently received a grant to train certified cancer education specialists. These specialists will educate patients about cancer and lead health fairs and education sessions in the community.
Once a patient is diagnosed with cancer, WCGCC stands with them to ensure the patient receives the treatments that are necessary. Cheryl explains, “We’re their advocate. We advocate for them to get the services that they need through their case management.” WCGCC fights to remove the barriers to full, quality care for cancer patients in the valley.
But it’s not just patients that WCGCC advocates for. Last spring, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, WCGCC found itself in a fight with the state.
“We had to advocate to restore our funding through the state,” Cheryl told me. “It was recommended that none of our funding be restored…. So myself and several of our colleagues got together. We advocated to our legislators to share with them the importance of what the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition does, how many clients we serve, and how we impact on the local level. How we save lives—how screenings save lives—and how on the front end, if it’s caught early, the amount of money that we’re saving versus someone who’s uninsured, they get cancer, and you have to pay for treatment versus paying for screenings on the front end.”
Thankfully, Cheryl and her team were able to secure their funding, but fights like this are not uncommon for nonprofits. That’s why advocacy is such an import part of securing these resources are for local residents.
Supporting Vulnerable People While Social Distancing
Knowing that much of WCGCC’s mission involves dealing with large gatherings of people, I asked Cheryl how the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting the organization’s work this year. She admitted that some things have had to change.
The annual Paint the Town Pink 5k Walk/Run was forced to go virtual. Instead of friends gathering from all over to reconnect at an event many look forward to all year, participants were encouraged to submit selfies of their own separate, socially-distanced walks. The yearly butterfly release was canceled, and in-person education fairs have been suspended as well.
“We began planning these changes back in March,” Cheryl told me. Having worked in public health and planned for pandemics, she understood the impact this virus could have.
However, the pandemic has brought some positive changes as well. “We will absolutely keep some of the changes from the pandemic in the future,” Cheryl said. One example is their mid-October virtual paint party, which she describes as a great event that connected people from all over and lightened spirits.
Getting Online To Stay Connected
Another important change is WCGCC has increased its social media presence. Cheryl points out that even when patients don’t have internet at home, most have a smartphone or social media account, and this technology has been essential for staying connected to patients and disseminating information.
“We’re trying to be creative. I’ve learned that people take information in bites, you know, that quick hashtag, whatever, ‘go to this site’ or ‘get your clinical breast exam.’ So we’re working on some awareness campaigns so we can post [on social media] because we know we are limited.”
Looking to find WCGCC online? Find us here!
What’s It Like Working With TracSoft?
WCGCC has been working with TracSoft for a number of years. Given that the pandemic has forced them to become more virtual, I asked Cheryl what her experience with TracSoft has been like.
“It’s been great,” she said. “I’ve had nothing but great success working with TracSoft. The overhaul of the website—it’s fresh, it’s clean. It’s just great.”
WCGCC is not alone in suddenly finding itself struggling to get online fast. Many nonprofits and small businesses that never needed an online presence before are now searching for ways to reach supporters, clients, and customers. And this is essential since the pandemic has changed consumer behavior in measurable ways.
If you’re struggling to get your business online, contact TracSoft today. We work with small and large businesses across a number of industries, providing both web design and digital marketing services. Get a beautiful, branded, future-proof website and pair it with our savvy social media marketing to not only retain your old clients, but to bring in new. Find out today what TracSoft can do for you.