When Sandpoint resident Heather Gibson had the vision to create a community cancer center for people seeking support after receiving a cancer diagnosis, she wanted the place to be warm, welcoming and in no way to resemble a medical office. She gathered her friends, and together they worked and opened Community Cancer Services in 2003. Just prior to Heather’s death in 2006 from breast cancer, the nonprofit organization named their place “Heather’s House.” Today, Heather’s vision continues to thrive and make a difference in the lives of countless people fighting cancer, their families and their caregivers.
Located at a handicapped accessible location with convenient parking for approximately the last 11 years, Community Cancer Services was recently informed by its landlord that their lease would not be renewed, and another tenant will be moving in. They were instructed just recently that they need to vacate their current location as of October 8.
“We are actively searching for a new location so there will not be any interruption of services for our clients,” said CCS Board President Sherri Lies. “This came as a total surprise to us, and we are reaching out to the community for help in finding a new location.”
Community Cancer Services is unique in many ways, including the fact they are driven by the needs of their clients. Because the three words “you have cancer” can turn a life upside down in an instant, income is not a factor in whether or not CCS offers assistance.
“When a client comes in for the first visit, we sit and listen. We decide together what is the best way for CCS to support them. It looks different for everyone. It could be assisting them with research on the center’s computer, offering them information from our lending library, or providing them with a wig or scarf,” said Lies. “Or it could be an appointment with Sara, our licensed therapist. Whatever it is, all services are free of charge.”
Community Cancer Service’s budget is monitored by its board of directors, and each client is allotted a certain amount of assistance each month.
Cindy Marx is the program manager of Community Cancer Services and reports that the organization has assisted over 1,100 clients since it first opened its doors.
“Each of those clients has family, friends and caregivers who are also affected by the diagnosis. We have several young parents in the system at the moment and are providing counseling to family members, including children,” said Marx who adds that for the past several years they have averaged approximately 200 clients per year. “We provide one-on-one and small-group counseling as well as running two groups that each meet two times a month. We also offer yoga specifically designed for those in treatment for and recovering from cancer treatment.”
Because travel to medical appointments, which can include radiation five days a week for up to six weeks, can be so costly, CCS’s assistance almost always involves gas vouchers. They also offer a gift card for groceries and can assist with paying for alternative treatment options that are not covered by insurance. The ways in which Community Cancer Services can help is limitless and these are just a few of the more common requests.
“Through August we have provided over $25,000 in gas vouchers, $16,000 in grocery assistance and $23,000 in direct medical bill payment assistance,” said Marx. “We have also been able to advocate for several clients to get medical bills reduced rather than sent to collections.”
And then there are the more unique ways CCS can make a difference. Shortly after it was first formed, one gentleman stopped into the center on a regular basis and enjoyed talking about all his kids, sharing stories with the staff. When he was nearing the end of his life, his only wish was to see all of his children again one last time. It was challenging because they were not all local, but CCS reached out and had airline miles donated and also provided financial assistance. The gentleman passed away an hour after his final child arrived at his bedside. He was finally ready to let go.
“I love the fact there is not a request our clients cannot ask, and if we cannot find the resources, we can assist them in finding someone who can,” said Lies. “CCS is such an amazing and unique organization. Heather Gibson truly blessed the community with her vision.”
Please reach out Cindy Marx at Community Cancer Services, 208-255-2301, if you know of a location available. Time is of the essence and those who rely on this amazing organization for financial and emotional support appreciate any help that can be given.