Getting a cancer diagnosis can seem unbearable, with the medical uncertainties and the financial burdens.
Sometimes a little help along the way can make all the difference. A tank of gas, a bag of groceries or even a mortgage payment can alleviate some of the stress patients feel as they grapple with the disease and its treatment.
Thanks to the work of PEAKS — People Everywhere Are Kind and Sharing — that type of help is available to patients who come to Billings for their treatment.
“Going through the torture of a cancer diagnosis, they don’t know what’s happening or what will be,” said Katie Meyer, American Cancer Society patient navigator at the St. Vincent Healthcare’s Frontier Cancer Center. “Knowing these costs are covered, they’re grateful.”
The nonprofit will host its annual fundraiser, Share the Spirit Fall Brew Fest, Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Montana Audubon Center. The event includes unlimited tastings from local breweries, as well as food trucks, live music and a silent and live auction.
Founded in 1988, PEAKS — an auxiliary of the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation — served 103 women and 87 men in 2016. The nonprofit distributed $36,000 in gas assistance, $14,000 for groceries and personal needs to patients treated either at the Frontier Cancer Center or at Billings Clinic.
Nedra Brown, a PEAKS volunteer from the start, said it all began with a nurse who worked at what was then called the Northern Rockies Radiation Oncology Center. It was Christmastime and the nurse asked a mom she met at the Billings center about her holiday plans.
“The mom said 'There’s not going to be any Christmas,’” Brown said. “So those people reached out to help that family. But then they realized there was a need that was not being touched.”
Out of that came the founding of the nonprofit PEAKS.
“It’s always been our goal to help patients at both hospitals,” she said. “We don’t care where they get treatment or how. We just want to help all we can.”
PEAKS has distributed more than $1 million, Brown said. And all the fundraising is done by volunteers.
Many of the people who seek cancer treatment in Billings travel from out of town, said Meadow Nilles, Meyer’s counterpart at Billings Clinic.
“We meet with the patients and ask what their needs are, the biggest barriers to getting treatment,” Nilles said. “So often it is help needed to get here and back.”
Nurses and other staff refer potential recipients to Meyer and Nilles, who interview them to figure out their needs and help them fill out a simple application. That application then goes to Emily Brown, director of cancer care services at the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation.
The grants often goes out in the form of gift cards to gas stations or Walmart, Brown said. But occasionally a check is cut to help pay a month’s rent or some other pressing cost.
“Just recently we made a mortgage payment for a gentleman that was in desperate need,” she said.
PEAKS doesn’t limit the way gift cards are spent at Walmart. Maybe a patient’s child needs school supplies or the treatment means the patient requires a liquid protein supplement, or a magazine to read during chemotherapy.