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Published: Thursday, 6/12/2003

Volunteers would fill void from cancer center closing

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - For the last 18 years, Cosette and Jim Weaver have spent several hours each week carefully sewing intricate stitches in pieces of cloth, always careful never to go all the way through the fabric so as not to injure those unfortunate enough to eventually have to use their handiwork.

“The stitch can't go through the top,” Mrs. Weaver explained, “because the stitch would get caught in a sore and make it worse.”

The Weavers, both in their 80s, have dedicated much of their retirement to helping others, specifically by sewing thousands of cancer bed pads together “to make someone's life a little easier in their last days.”

Now, officials at the Monroe Senior Center, where the Weavers and three other volunteers do their weekly sewing, are hoping others in the community will step forward to help “fill a void” left by the closing earlier this year of the Karmanos Cancer Center.

The United Way of Monroe County has donated $40,700 to the Monroe Senior Center this year to help start what officials there are calling the Monroe Cancer Connection, a place for cancer sufferers and their families to get the help they need when they need it most.

“I see the Monroe Cancer Connection being a local clearinghouse and coordinating body for cancer services, regardless of the providers,” explained Aaron Simonton, executive director of the Monroe Senior Center. “One of the first things we'll do is an analysis of all the services available for cancer sufferers, and then we'll try to fill in the gaps.”

Karmanos, which had operated in Monroe for decades, closed in spring to allow its parent organization, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, to focus more of its resources on research. But the abrupt nature of the closing left some local cancer patients who had relied on Karmanos for assistance with treatment in a lurch, he said.

“They've left a void in Monroe for the patient services end of cancer care. Even though Monroe is located between two large metropolitan areas, often people think we have all the services that those areas have, and we don't. That's left volunteers to pick up the slack,” Mr. Simonton said.

“For instance,” Mr. Simonton said. “Almost all of the specialty treatments [for area cancer patients] are in Ann Arbor, Toledo, and Detroit. Just getting someone to daily chemotherapy treatments there can be a tremendous burden on the family, so one of the things we'd like to provide is volunteer drivers to take people to treatments.”

The connection will try to help cancer patients with some of the necessary items they require but which aren't normally covered by insurance, such as hand-sewn cancer dressings and the cancer bed pads that the Weavers sew.

“Whenever traditional services can't help, that's when we'll step in. We plan to provide a lot of information, referrals, and do problem solving, too. If you've got cancer, you've got a lot of problems to deal with, not just the medical ones,” Mr. Simonton explained.

The connection will also operate a “loan closet,” to provide temporary mobility aids such as walkers and wheelchairs that might be needed by cancer patients.

While the connection will be housed out of the Monroe Senior Center, its services will be available to anyone in Monroe County with cancer, regardless of age. To get a proper start, Mr. Simonton said the most important ingredient missing to ensure initial success is volunteers.

“We're looking for people who care. We need volunteer drivers, volunteers to work in the office, and of course donations of supplies or money,” he said. “We need all the resources we can get together to fight cancer.”

One thing he will be able to count on is the Weavers' continued dedication to their handiwork.

“Sewing has always been my hobby,” Mrs. Weaver said. “We've been told different times how much [cancer patients] appreciate them. We feel we're doing something to help people, and to get me out of the house too.”



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