Navigating Through Cancer

Area resources assist patients, families

Shock. Anxiety. Disbelief. Depression.

A cancer diagnosis can lead to a flurry of emotions.

Kimberly Demeny is all too familiar with those feelings.

Her husband, Michael Hermes, lost his battle with cancer on Aug. 14, 2012. After being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 1992 and beating it, doctors discovered in 2010 that Hermes had a brain tumor – glioblastoma – the most aggressive malignant primary brain tumor.

Hermes, co-founder of Connect Inc., a cancer concierge, had a vision for preventing cancer patients from falling through the cracks. He wanted “to help them become informed and locate the best options available,” according to the nonprofit’s brochure.

“What people don’t know is that they can stop and take a breath,” says Demeny, president and co- founder. “They feel like, ‘I have to get rid of it right away.’… When you’re there as the patient, or someone supporting the patient, it’s a lot to take in.”

Demeny says because of her family’s experiences, “we knew we had an advantage to fight cancer.” Through the Green Bay-based Connect Inc., Demeny works with her sister, Jennifer Hickey, who also is a co-founder and executive director, to raise awareness.

“We kind of fill all those gaps you don’t really think about when you get diagnosed with cancer,” Hickey says. “I think that’s part of the diagnosis process. You’re so overwhelmed you don’t know where to start.”

The nonprofit organization, started in 2012, relies on word of mouth for it’s free, middle man- type services. The organization assists family members, along with cancer patients, and puts them in touch with everything from support groups to second-opinion resources to financial assistance options to help with arranging childcare and groceries. They do not offer medical advice.

Connect Inc. recently assisted an elderly gentleman from Green Bay seeking treatment in the area and later at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. The veteran was stressed about how he was going to cover the cost of his mounting medical bills. Connect Inc. was able to write letters on his behalf and get the costs written off.

Making the connection

“I had to make friends with the word, ‘cancer’ or I was going to freak out,” recalls Brenda Bonn. Her mother is a three-time breast cancer survivor and her father fought Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Bonn was assigned to do research to understand her dad’s diagnosis. Of course, that was before WebMD.com existed, she jokes.

Bonn, who worked at the LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva, Ill., moved to Wisconsin in 2008. She had a dream of opening a drop-in center here, which morphed into providing a clearinghouse for area cancer-related resources, services and information.

HOPE Cancer Connection of the Fox Valley began as a committee in 2010. The organization officially became a nonprofit in fall 2012 and went live with its rebuilt website in September 2013.

HOPE Cancer Connection, a free virtual 24/7 offering, provides information online regarding local support, events and health and nutrition. The organizations Medical Council has approved all links found on the website, hopecancerconnection.org.

HOPE Cancer Connection also has the backing of all three of the Fox Valley’s health systems – Affinity Health, ThedaCare and Aurora Health Care. The nonprofit receives support from the YMCA of the Fox Cities and the American Cancer Society. Like Connect Inc., HOPE Cancer Connection does not provide medical advice.

“Everyone has these great resources going, but we need to let people know that we’re here,” says Bonn, HOPE Cancer Connection’s executive director. “It’s one more way of getting that information to them.”

For those without Internet access or in need of more information, HOPE Cancer Connection also serves as a touch point for assistance and research. Bonn says information is mailed to those needing it. She also encourages individuals to be a connection and let the organization know of additional resources and informational holes needing to be filled.

“We’re not just about the patient because cancer affects more than just the patient,” Bonn says. “It affects the whole community.”

Networking resources

To help in the fight against cancer and other illnesses, ThedaCare has started a partnership with the Mayo Clinic Care Network giving its physicians access to Mayo experts and clinical resources. This includes eConsults and AskMayoExpert. These tools aid in diagnosing medical conditions and care planning. The health provider is the first member in Wisconsin.

“It’s always nice to have a big name like, ‘Mayo Clinic’ to back you up,” says Dr. Editha Krueger, a radiation oncologist with ThedaCare. Having that extra bit of reassurance, along with the brand expertise and academics synonymous with the Mayo Clinic name has helped to put patients’ minds at ease, she added. The services are provided at no additional cost to patients.

“They definitely have voiced that it is so convenient. They don’t have to go anywhere or do anything,” Krueger says. Krueger, who has practiced for 16 years, says it’s been helpful to have another resource available to her. The partnership process is streamlined through doctor-to-doctor communication.

For example, Krueger generates her consult notes and sends them to Mayo, including any imaging and pathology reports, other provider notes and her questions. The system then filters her query to the best physician to match her case and she receives a response typically within one to two weeks.

Occasionally, patients do need to be sent to a Mayo location for further follow-up, but “even if they have to go there, the plan has already been set in motion,” Krueger says. The level of difficulty is decreased since patients don’t have to worry about arranging an appointment or transferring records.

“Patients can be reassured if they choose to get their care at ThedaCare that it’s easy to get their care and a second opinion through the Mayo Clinic,” Krueger says.