Last week, Maine Cancer Foundation staff and board members set aside their day-to-day responsibilities and embarked on a journey to better understand the state of cancer in Western Maine. After fueling up with coffee and breakfast, everyone boarded a bus out of Falmouth with a first destination of South Paris, located in Oxford County.
We met Reverend Don Mayberry, the Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church, which provides many resources for cancer patients throughout the county – both financial and spiritual. Don is a pillar in his community, and we had the chance to hear from him about the needs cancer patients face, the resources that are available and the gaps that persist, and ways that MCF can best support the cancer programs in the region. We participated in a Privilege Walk activity, exploring the reality of Oxford County demographics. While the age, race, and ethnicity breakdowns of the county match much of the state, they are behind in many measures including income, poverty rates, employment and general health status. These factors, as illustrated through the activity, have a broad impact on someone’s cancer risk, and access to care once diagnosed.
We loaded back onto the bus for the short trip to Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine in Norway. The center is a place where people diagnosed with cancer can go to access free support, education, wellness programs, comfort items, and social and creative services We met with Mary Dempsey, Executive Director; Judy Stone, Vice President; Sue Craib, Secretary; and Program Coordinator Sherri Otterson. They shared stories of the fabulous resources they are providing to cancer patients in their area, the story of their growth as a county-wide resource, and repeated the themes we heard from Reverend Mayberry about the challenges cancer patients face in the rural communities around Norway.
We also heard from Patti-Ann Douglas, Patient Navigator and Shelly Thorp, Nurse Manager at Stevens Memorial Hospital about the support they can provide cancer patients, starting at the point of diagnosis. As a Patient Navigator, Patti-Ann contacts those recently diagnosed to see how she can help – whether it be reading and understanding their medical bills, talking to insurance companies, applying for financial aid, coordinating transportation, or accompanying them to doctor visits as an advocate. She serves as a beacon of hope and compassion during a stressful time, in some cases as a patient’s only support. We concluded the Oxford County visit with a tour of Stevens Memorial Hospital and the infusion center where cancer treatment is administered.
From there, the MCF team traveled to Farmington to visit longtime MCF grantee Healthy Community Coalition of Greater Franklin County. We met with Tracy Harty, Janice Walker and Jennifer McCormack and heard about the tremendous impact they are having in their community. In particular they shared success stories from a recent MCF grant that supports their colorectal screening project. Through innovation, tenacity, and collaboration they have successfully increased colorectal screening rates across the county significantly in the past 3 years. They are a consistent presence throughout the community, loading up their 25-foot Mobile Health Unit and traveling to various fairs, shopping centers on paydays, and community events to advocate for timely screenings and educate the community about lifestyle changes we can all make to reduce our risk of cancer. Their team even travels door to door to resident’s homes to talk about the importance of screening and early detection to lessen the impact of cancer.
As we headed home to southern Maine, the bus buzzed with conversations about our pride in the work our community partners are doing, ideas for how we can be more effective and targeted in our grant-making, and hope for the cancer-free Maine that all our loved ones, friends and neighbors deserve.