When people think of the American Cancer Society (ACS), they often envision a giant national entity that funds cancer research. While it’s true that ACS is the largest private funder of cancer research — investing $5 billion to date and $400 million just last year across the United States at various research institutions — in Cincinnati, ACS divides its work into three pillars: discovery, advocacy and patient support.
Regarding the discovery pillar, ACS has funded 49 Nobel laureates — researchers who early in their careers had brilliant, exciting ideas and, as a result, went on to win the Nobel Prize.
“We’re proud to be investing in these smart, up-and-coming researchers,” says ACS Executive Director Lenora Oeters. She notes that in Cincinnati, they have $4 million invested in research grants at University of Cincinnati and $100,000 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “We’re excited about the work we’re doing here because we know that research will be the tool that will eventually find the cure for cancer.”
The advocacy pillar is critical to ensuring that cancer patients are protected. This year, ACS secured $1.1 million in the 2021- 2022 Ohio Department of Health budget to provide breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic services to uninsured or underinsured Ohioans.
The patient support pillar includes everything from information and education to screening guidelines. ACS, however, focuses on two primary things relating to patient support: transportation and lodging.
“Transportation is the number one barrier to people completing their cancer care because often folks aren’t well enough to drive themselves back and forth for multiple rounds of treatment,” says Oeters. “Even if you have a two-person household, one person will likely need to continue working to carry insurance.”
In the Greater Cincinnati area, ACS has its Transportation & Lodging grant. They partner with local hospital systems to award dollars that their social work teams can use to support patients who need access to and from cancer-related medical appointments. This past year, they provided more than 16,000 rides through their transportation grants program.
In addition, ACS has put its volunteer-led Road to Recovery driving program back online. Patients can go through a web-based platform and request a ride, like an Uber service. They are actively recruiting drivers now and are asking for a one ride a month commitment.
In Cincinnati, ACS also has a staff member who focuses on the Medicaid population. This person provides funding for and links these Medicaid patients with their hospital systems to arrange rides.
“We have a multiprong approach to ensuring that people can get to and from their treatment,” says Oeters.
The other barrier to treatment is lodging, so ACS also has lodging grants with hospital system partners. In August, Cincinnati became one of six pilot markets across the county to partner with Extended Stay America to provide free and reduced room rates for cancer patients who need to travel away from home. This means that cancer patients at any of their hospital systems can call their 800 number, which is open 24/7, 365 days, to say they need a free night of lodging, and ACS will arrange it.
“That’s a lifeline for people, whether they need transportation and lodging or want information about a clinical trial or just need somebody to talk to,” says Oeters.
ACS has a team of trained medical professionals who answer those calls and can provide support to individuals across the cancer continuum.
“When our patients and their families have so much to navigate — especially those quick decisions that have to be made after they receive a cancer diagnosis — it’s great to say to them, ‘We can take
care of getting you to treatment. We can provide a safe and comfort- able place close to your hospital system where you can get rest and not have to worry about the cost,’” says Oeters. “To alleviate some of those financial burdens is really a gift for us.”
Astoundingly, one in eight women will battle breast cancer in their lifetime. It’s the second leading cause of cancer death in women. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so on Oct. 22,
ACS will host their biggest community-wide event, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, at Yeatman’s Cove to bring together breast cancer survivors, current patients, and those walking in memory of loved ones. An estimated 10,000 people are expected to attend the 5K walk (this year, they’re also adding a 5K run). They hope to raise $500,000 in the fight against cancer. Though they encourage fundraising, there is no registration fee for the walk (only the run).
“We don’t want the registration fee to be a barrier to participating,” says Oeters.
In addition to the Making Strides walk in October, ACS also has its “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign in which 30 men in Cincinnati (fire and police chiefs, chefs, restaurant owners, doctors and business leaders) dedicate themselves to wearing pink all month to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer. In addition, they host the annual ACS Cincinnati Golf Classic at Kenwood Country Club. They hope to raise $1.6 million between those three programs.
“Making Strides is a top 20 event for all Stride events for ACS nationally, the golf tournament is a top 5 event, and the Real Men Wear Pink is a top 10 campaign,” says Oeters. “We’re proud to compete nationally with the biggest and best cities of ACS. It’s a testament to our volunteers who partner with us and lead these initiatives in the community.”
Looking for ways to help show your support? To register for the 5K run, visit acsmove.org/makingstrides5k. To learn more about the Making Strides walk, visit MakingStridesWalk.org/Cincinnati. For more information about the Road to Recovery Program and driver recruitment, visit cancer.org/drive. And for more information about the ESA lodging program, call 1-800-227-2345.