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‘Hungry’ to help

Cancer Dietary Initiative helps patients at Tony Teramana Cancer Center with monthly food distribution

October 6, 2013
By JANICE R. KIASKI - Herald-Star community editor ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - The discovery was "food for thought" put into action.

The Cancer Dietary Initiative at the Tony Teramana Cancer Center is helping economically struggling cancer patients have food at the end of the month at a time when their funds are low, and buying medicine from the pharmacy takes precedence over a trip to the grocery store.

The CID has been in place six months now, an end-of-the-month food distribution that unfolds at the center on the third Saturday of the month. It helps by-invitation-only center patients, starting off with 20 but now at the 35-person mark.

Article Photos

FILLING A NEED — Participants in the Cancer Dietary Initiative in place at the Tony Teramana Cancer Center in Steubenville, which provides an end-of-the-month food distribution to by-invitation cancer patients undergoing treatment there, are from left, Dr. Pervais Rahman, co-chief executive officer of the nonprofit; Don Heiss, secretary; June Crago, board member; Susan Miller, oncology patient advocate and treasurer; and Diane Wasco, board member. The CID initially helped 20 patients and already has grown to assist 35.?Donations of nonperishable food items and money are accepted. For information, contact Miller at (740) 264-8747.
-- Janice R. Kiaski

It's a number those involved in the nonprofit 501 (c)(3) expect to see increase.

"The whole idea of the Cancer Dietary Initiative is actually to provide what's called comprehensive cancer care - that's all this is about," said Dr. Pervaiz Rahman, co-chief executive officer of the initiative along with his son, Haris, a freshman at Upper St. Clair High School in a Pittsburgh suburb who is launching a food drive there to help the effort.

Also involved are Susan Miller, the charity's treasurer and the center's oncology patient advocate; Don Heiss, secretary; and board members June Crago and Diane Wasco.

"When we talk about comprehensive cancer care, we just don't talk about chemotherapy, we just don't talk about blood testing, we talk about social issues. We talk about nutritional issues. We talk about what's happening in their homes because a patient comes to us, and we see their face and we say 'Are we going to give you chemotherapy?' but we don't know what's happening in their homes," Rahman said.

"What we found was that a number of our patients were losing weight while they were on treatment, so I started asking them and what we found out was that that last 10 days of the month, the food ran out because the checks ran out, whether that was Social Security or Medicare," Rahman said.

How to help became the question that demanded an answer.

"We came up with this idea of how about we give you some groceries for the last 10 days to be picked up on the third Saturday of every month. Why don't we make a bag of nonperishable and some perishable items that will see them through for 10 days, so we started doing that, and we got positive feedback saying, 'yes, it's solving our problem,'" he continued.

Financial help from Rahman and private donations got the food distribution up and running, and donations keep it going, according to Miller, who said the CID presents an opportunity for the public to come on board to help.

"They can bring donations of nonperishable items to the center or they can make a check out to Cancer Dietary Initiative," Miller said. Checks can be mailed to her attention at the Tony Teramana Cancer Center at 3204 Johnson Road, Steubenville, OH 43952. Questions can be directed to her at (740) 264-8747.

An initial list Miller provided to Rahman had 20 patients on it. "We said, OK, let's start this out as a pilot project, and that number has grown to 35 now, and we think the numbers are only going to grow. It's not going to get any less," Rahman said, noting he wanted his son to be involved in the project as well.

On the Friday before a distribution, Heiss said he and Miller, Crago and Rahman sit down and decide what food items to get for the patients that month. Then off he and Crago go to the local grocery stores, filling buggies with 35 of everything and raising eyebrows all the while at their quanity purchases.

"We hit the local stores and do the shopping for the food," Heiss said in preparation for the distribution.

"I'm Don's sidekick when it comes to shopping, and we have a great deal of fun pushing buggies and buying 35 of everything and then the reaction of the people thinking we have like an orphanage or a children's home. We kind of feed into that when we're shopping, and we have fun with it," Crago joked.

Wasco enjoys helping, too.

"I just started helping out just volunteering," Wasco said. "I work on the cancer side, the chemotherapy side in the capacity, I am an office team leader. I do a lot of the scheduling for the doctors. I know a lot of the patients and am familiar with their financial situations. If it's someone we feel has a need, we obviously talk to Susan to add them to the list," she said.

"I come in and volunteer and help fill the bags of food for the patients, help carry the items to the car and copy the paperwork they need to sign, so I'm just here basically to help wherever needed," Wasco said.

On distribution day, the volunteers carry the bags to the patients' cars and make other accommodations as well.

"If we have patients who are sick and can't come to the center or they have no transportation, we will deliver the items to their homes so we provide that service also," Heiss said.

Part of the monthly distribution involves a monthly survey, according to Miller.

"Each month we survey the patients while we're in this trial period so that we can be sure that we're meeting or exceeding their needs and that we can continue giving excellent service and so we do request surveys each month from each patient," she said.

Other food banks in the area serve a distinct purpose and clientele as does the CID, according to Miller.

"There are other food banks in the area, and they function excellently, including Urban Mission," she said. "This is something specific to individual needs for cancer patients, because they are undergoing a time period in their life when they intermittently need a little help but not something that will continue," she said.

Feedback has been nothing but positive, Miller said.

"We've gotten many thanks and basically they're just thrilled with what they're getting and that there's help available," Miller said. "A lot of time it frees up money they can use for gas to get back and forth to treatment. We all know what gas costs now, so it helps them in many ways and they acknowledge that," she added.

"The most important point is that when patients undergo cancer care, it's not just chemotherapy," Rahman said. "It's co-pays, it's paying co-pays for medicines, it's buying food for themselves, it's buying a nutritious diet for themselves, and in this time of economic hardship, patients are hurting, and what they might be doing is compromising on their food and buying medicine thinking that that is the essential item, so they're actually being hurt, so we kind of said, 'Hey, how can we help?'" Rahman said in looking for a way to give back to a community that has helped the center.

While the effort is one helping others, Crago said she, like her peers in the project, reaps a reward as well.

"We get more blessings from the patients' smiles and hugs when they come."

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