Kootenai Clinic Cancer Services medical social worker Maggi McElfresh, left, visits with breast cancer patient Sharie MacDonald in a Cancer Services office on Monday. MacDonald has utilized services the clinic offers, including financial aid, and actively attends a support group each week.
She went to see her doctor knowing she wasn’t feeling normal. She left with information that changed her life.
"I have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer," MacDonald said Monday. "It’s metastasized to my bones, my bone marrow and my cerebral spinal fluid."
It was 2013 when she received her diagnosis. She actually thought her doctor was in the wrong room when he delivered the news. Then she simply got down to business.
"When he told me I just accepted it and said, ‘OK, what do we have to do?’ and we just got started," she said. "Telling my boys was horrible. My youngest was only 13 when we were first diagnosed."
MacDonald, of Post Falls, immediately connected with Kootenai Clinic Cancer Services in Coeur d’Alene to help her along this difficult journey. She discovered that aside from treating her body for cancer, the clinic offers many other services that help ease the mind and pocketbook — nutritional and genetic counseling, free hats, scarves and wigs to feel beautiful despite hair loss, financial assistance and more.
"They take care of you as a whole. It’s not just the disease," she said. "They want to take care of you."
On the first day of her diagnosis, MacDonald met and befriended oncology clinical navigator Jodi Schmidt, who has been with Kootenai Health for 30 years. As a navigator, Schmidt guides patients through the treatment process by helping coordinate appointments, schedule meetings with specialists, find resources and help wherever possible.
"When people come to see us, they’re in crisis," Schmidt said. "They’ve gotten this cancer diagnosis. They don’t understand. ‘What does this mean? How is this going to impact me?’ I know they need help, emotionally and financially, and I think social services is so awesome at that."
The social services offered by the clinic are “the resources that are available to help out patients who are saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I have cancer, how am I going to afford this, what’s that mean for my family, how am I going to get to my appointments?’" said Kootenai Health communications and marketing director Kim Anderson. "All of those more human aspects of a cancer diagnosis."
Medical social worker Maggi McElfresh said patients receive a complete psycho-social evaluation when they first come in. That helps staff know where to start with each individual.
"We meet the patient where they are,” she said. "Sometimes it’s the job, getting all the disability forms completed to either remain employed or access disability benefits, helping the patient to determine what’s the most important thing to be done first and what’s the biggest worry and take it a piece at a time."
The 100-member Cancer Services staff includes a financial counselor dedicated to helping patients apply for medication assistance. The social workers also help patients apply for national and local programs to help with things insurance won’t cover.
"One of our incredible programs is our Cancer Patient Support Fund," McElfresh said. "That fund is supported through individual donations, grants and corporate donations, and 100 percent of those funds go to direct patient care, meaning concrete needs — rent, gas, groceries, clothing."
This help exists for patients in treatment who reach the annual net financial criteria of being within 250 percent above federal poverty guidelines, McElfresh explained. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the 2016 federal poverty level is $11,770 for individuals, $15,930 for a family of two and $20,090 for a family of three.
MacDonald said she’s thankful staff helped her find ways to cover her pricy medications. She worked as long as she could, but eventually was put on disability and now Social Security and Medicare.
"It doesn’t take away that I’m still a single mom," she said. "I still have two kids I’m taking care of, so the financial end of it has helped tremendously.
"You can call at any time and talk to somebody," she continued. "The financial aspect, at first I didn’t feel I needed it, and then all of a sudden it’s like ‘Oh, I need it,’ and it is there for you instantly. It’s been really incredible. It’s just those little things that help take the burden off you. It’s just one less worry. I love that."
Like a Rock
An underlying rock of support for Cancer Services is the Kootenai Health Foundation, the fundraising branch of Kootenai Health.
"We received a $60,000 grant (from the Foundation) this year, and we just applied for additional funds and were granted an additional $25,000," Cancer Services clinical operations manager Teresa Johnston said. "The Foundation has been very supportive."
Kootenai Clinic Cancer Services has facilities in Coeur d’Alene, 625-4700; Post Falls, 625-4900; and Sandpoint, 263-6763 or 265-7111.
"This is a journey. I don’t regret getting it; it’s all part of who you are, but it’s so nice to have the backing," MacDonald said. "You have your friends and your family, but they really don’t know what you’re going through. You can tell them and explain it in great detail, but they don’t know. (But at Kootenai Clinic Cancer Services) they know. They absolutely know."
This article was originally published at the “Article” source noted above and distributed by The Tutu Project for informational purposes only.
Tags: Cancer, Social work, Support group