HEALTHCARE ENTERPRISE: Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation Supporting Patients & Physicians
A century after the birth of legendary comedienne Sarah Cannon, a.k.a. Minnie Pearl, the cancer foundation named in her honor brings hope and education to patients, their families and caregivers nationwide. Now in its 25th
year, the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation provides free, one-on-one cancer support to some 6,000 patients annually.
“We’re there to provide that compassionate guidance to any adult impacted by cancer,” said Susan Earl Hosbach, executive director of MPCF. “We want people to contact us as early in the diagnosis as possible. Cancer is a scary diagnosis and leads to so many questions from the patient, caregiver and family. We’re there for them throughout the process.”
The MPCF provides comprehensive cancer education to oncology patients free of charge and regardless of attending physician or hospital. While the program was founded by Thomas Frist, Sr., MD, co-founder of the TriStar Sarah Cannon Cancer Center, the two organizations are completely independent.
“We do help a lot of Sarah Cannon patients, but we will help any cancer patient regardless of where they receive treatment,” Hosbach said.
The foundation primarily supports breast, lung, colorectal, and head and neck cancers, but staff members work with families dealing with all forms of the disease. Their staff of oncology social workers and dietitians instructs patients on standards of care and how to ensure a healthy survivorship throughout treatment.
Guidance and Support
Patients also learn about the clinical trial process and can explore possible trials for their individual diagnoses. MPCF is now building a clinical trials locator to support their educational component.
“Clinical trials don’t have to be last resort,” Hosbach said. “We want to help educate the public and provide a better tool to access those trials.”
Because weight maintenance is a constant concern for oncology patients, nutrition consultation is a primary focus at MPCF. Dietitians are specially trained in oncology and have provided assistance to patients in 33 states and as far away as South Africa.
“Patients who maintain their weight during treatment experience much better outcomes, but the most common side effects of chemo and radiation are nausea, diarrhea and fatigue,” Hosbach noted. “Our nutritionists help patients overcome those problem and talk to them about super foods and techniques that will make eating more palatable.”
An online cancer library helps visitors understand the ins and outs of the disease, while a free lending library provides updated books, magazines and pamphlets. MPCF also has developed a free educational DVD, “Cancer in the Workplace,” as a resource for companies that want to better support and understand the implications of a cancer diagnosis among their employees. Colorful hats, scarves and turbans are sent to patients at no charge.
How MPCF Does It
The 501(c)3 operates a $1.2 million budget made possible by private and corporate support. Local oncology research nurses and an advisory group of local physicians support MPCF’s nutritionists and social workers. The foundation participates in the Tennessee Cancer Coalition and maintains national partnerships with organizations like Gilda’s Club, a nonprofit cancer support group.
“Because most patients don’t feel well enough to come in, we provide a lot of information on the website, answer questions over email and phone, and are now piloting a Skype program on nutrition from doctor’s offices in rural Middle Tennessee communities,” Hosbach said. This fall, she plans to launch a new portal offering patients more one-on-one guidance including live chat options.
Webinars and YouTube videos also address patient concerns — from what to buy in the grocery store to patient testimonials. A four-part series on gynecological cancers is being featured on MPCF’s site in 2012. Physicians also can sign up for MPCF’s e-newsletters, sent out twice monthly.
Support for Physicians
The foundation works directly with hospitals and can contact the patient’s medical team to discuss patient assistance. MPCF is a valuable tool to hospitals without oncology-specific dietitians and even to those with cancer navigation teams in place.
“Some of the patient’s most common concerns, such as life stressors and diet, are supported through our program,” Hosbach explained. “Getting those answers here helps nurses and doctors focus on medical treatment and less on issues that can take away the patient focus.”
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 12 million people are dealing with cancer at any given time. In an age when many cancers are treated as chronic lifetime illnesses, MPCF is helping physicians stay focused on treatment and assisting families in search of answers.
“We’re there when patients need us but are not a constant in their treatment,” Hosbach said. “When they have a question or just need more information about symptoms or side effects, we can help or will connect them with people who can.”
Heading: Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation Marks Milestone
This year is the biggest yet for the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation. Their 25th anniversary also marks the 100th birthday of its namesake — a beloved entertainer, breast cancer survivor and noted spokeswoman.
The Tennessee native, Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw star died in 1996 at age 84. To celebrate her legacy, MPCF has launched a “Minnie Moments” campaign featuring stories from clients, survivors and caregivers who have used the foundation’s services, as well as memories from celebrities and fans of Minnie Pearl. Throughout 2012, “moments” shared at www.minniepearl.org/minniemoments will be included in newsletters, Youtube, on Facebook and Twitter and the MPCF website.
The Grand Ole Opry is planning events for both private and public audiences during the week of her birthday, which is Oct. 25.