An estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, according to the National Cancer Institute. For almost all, it comes with not only physical and mental hardship but financial hardships as well.
That’s where Branches of Hope comes in. It is a fund at Central Vermont Medical Center that was set up in 2010 to help cancer patients with expenses beyond their medical treatment.
Over the years Branches of Hope has given peace of mind to many patients any way it can, even if it’s just covering a small bill such as medication, heating, gasoline, or food.
National Life’s Do Good Fest raises money for Branches of Hope. Over the first two years of the musical festival, $26,000 has been donated to Branches of Hope. This year’s festival is July 16th.
“It’s huge. Basically that’s our major source,” says Theresa Lever, the patient outreach coordinator at the Central Vermont Medical Center who oversees the cancer patient fund. She helps patients get the proper information, care plan, and financial help they need. “There would be no other way to do what we’re doing. We would have to be way more restrictive.”
Amy Hill’s family is one that has been helped by Branches of Hope. In December of 2014, she was diagnosed with cancer, as was her husband a few months later.
The Hills live modestly in a home heated by wood, which they cut themselves, and they run a blueberry farm.
Once treatment started, their health declined and they were unable to cut their own wood for the winter months.
Not only were they unable to get the fuel needed to survive the Vermont winter, the Hills’ farm did not produce any berries the year they were diagnosed, making it harder to pay their normal bills.
Amy and her husband Francis decided to reach out to Branches of Hope for help.
Branches looked into their situation and was able to provide money so they could buy enough wood for the winter.
“For me, as a patient, I look back and it gave us an opportunity to heat our home,” Amy Hill says. “If we didn’t have it I don’t know what we would’ve done. In all reality Branches of Hope gave us the ability to live. It saved us.”
Since their recovery, Amy has been spending what time she can to volunteer and help others.
“I think the biggest thing is people just need to ask for help. It’s out there,” she says. “In my life right now I am in a place where I can give back and I want to. There’s help out there and it’s scary to think you might lose everything. But thanks to that help you don’t.”
For some patients the stress comes more from the illness itself than finances. And National Life has helped in that way, as well. In 2009 the company donated $250,000 to Central Vermont Medical Center to build the National Life Cancer Treatment Center.
For avid bicyclist Kevin O’Donnell, the local treatment center meant addressing his cancer as quickly as possible.
“My cancer developed very quickly. Within 4 months I had to get treatment,” O’Donnell says.
O’Donnell did not receive financial help from Branches of Hope, but was directed to the National Life Cancer Treatment Center by the organization.
He said he is thankful of the work both organizations do.
In his fight with cancer, O’Donnell had to undergo ten and a half hours of surgery followed by months of treatment.
“I don’t want to do it again but if I had to I would go [to the National Life Cancer Treatment Center],” O’Donnell says.
During his afternoons at the treatment center, O’Donnell says, he tried to improve the mood by playing music in the public areas.
“The way I got treated and the outcome were wonderful,” he says. “There are all these opportunities to express how you’re feeling. When you’re going through such a crazy time it’s great to know someone’s got your back. Have some fun with it.”
O’Donnell says he’s grateful for the care he received.
While undergoing radiation, patients often receive a small tattoo to help doctors accurately aim radiation at a specific area. O’Donnell decided to make his into something personal once his treatment ended.
“I had it embellished into the Celtic knot for gratitude, and I see that every day I get out of the shower and I’m grateful,” he says. “The day after my last treatment I rode 20 miles on my bicycle just to say I did.”
Now he’s riding not just for sport.
“For years and years and years I’ve done rides for the food bank and cancer and never thought I’d be one. And now I want to give back,” O’Donnell says. “Because I trusted them, I think I’m so much better off now than I was four months ago.”
When patients need support during this difficult time, Theresa Lever is there at Branches of Hope to help them out.
“If people tell us they are having a hard time paying bills… I can say to people I can help you over a year with $1,000,” Lever said. And it’s not a lot, but people are very grateful. One of the things the fund does is it gives people a good feeling when not a lot of good things are going on.”
The money is “administered in a generous spirit” with no judgment about the person who is being helped, Lever says.
“What we recognize with our fund is that everyone is financially impacted with a cancer diagnosis,” Lever said. “If we did not have a healthy fund we wouldn’t be able to help people the way we do.”
And National Life is proud to be able to help out. You’re invited to do your part and have a good time while doing it at the 2016 Do Good Fest on July 16 on the National Life Lawn. Big Head Todd and the Monsters will headline the show and Brett Dennen will open. Local bands Steady Betty and the Dave Keller Band will also perform.