Although there are many organizations that help cancer patients by funding research to put an end to cancer, this one helps the patient directly, financially and emotionally. We’re proud to share our interview with the Angel Foundation!
Angel Foundation got started in a bittersweet way, can you explain?
Our founder, Margie Sborov, was in high school when her boyfriend, Jim, was diagnosed with, and ultimately passed away from, cancer. This was during a time when people were very cautious about using the “c-word”: Jim’s parents made the decision not to tell him he was dying from this horrible disease (they only told Margie and Jim’s best friend, Mark). This was a devastating experience for a teenager, in so many ways, and it stuck with Margie and Mark for years to come.
Before Jim passed, Mark promised to devote his life to fighting cancer, and to take care of Margie. True to his word, Mark married Margie in college and then went on to become an oncologist: he is one of the founding physicians of Minnesota Oncology. After the birth of their children, Margie went to work as a patient advocate, where she encountered so many patients who were facing impossible choices: do they buy food for their family, or do they purchase their prescription meds? Frustrated that her patients were struggling to cover their basic expenses (and with nowhere to send them for help) Margie founded Angel Foundation as way to respond to their pressing needs.
What is Angel Foundation’s #1 goal and do you achieve this goal?
Angel Foundation is committed to providing financial, educational and emotional support to adults with cancer and their families at any stage of their cancer experience. We accomplish this by offering diverse support programming, meeting our program participants where they are in their journey as caregiver, loved one or patient.
Can you give some examples of people you’ve helped and their stories?
We get a lot of feedback from our program participants, which is wonderful validation for what we do. A story from last winter comes to mind: a local family (mom and son, about 8 years old) attended one of our “Parenting Through Cancer” sessions, their first time at an Angel program. For this program, parents and children are split, and the kids are guided through age-appropriate conversations and activities to help them understand cancer, common cancer treatments, etc. This young boy participated in a Medical Play session, which is an activity in which stuffed animals are used to simulate chemotherapy using a faux port, etc. That same evening, he went home and shared with his mom what he learned with incredible confidence: he understood her treatment, why the nurses wear gloves and masks when they administer her chemo, why she was tired after receiving treatment, etc. Mom sent us a video of him “administering chemo” to his special teddy bear (which he got to take home), which was so touching. They got a “jump start” on their conversation, which was needed, and have continued to communicate ever since.
What is the Facing Cancer Together program?
Our Facing Cancer Together (FCT) program addresses the needs of the whole family and focuses specifically on children ages 0-26 who have, or have had, a parent/caregiver with cancer. A cancer diagnosis effects the entire family, not just the patient: our various FCT programs serve to educate the entire family on cancer and provide them with tools to establish open communication, manage stress, and offer each other support. Our goal is to help families grow together, not apart, during their cancer experience, however long it lasts and whatever it looks like in the end.
What are AngelPacks?
AngelPacks are a tangible resource that metro area clinics and hospital staff can provide to families at the time of diagnosis to help the family begin to speak openly and honestly about cancer, their loved one’s diagnosis, the prognosis, etc. The purpose of AngelPacks is to provide families with the information and support they need to establish healthy communication regarding the cancer experience as early as possible. Each pack includes developmentally appropriate guidebooks and coping items that provide comfort, reduce stress, and promote healthy conversation. AngelPacks are available for children (5-8), preteens (9-12) and teens (13-18). In addition, parents, grandparents, or guardians receive a separate folder with resources.
Right now you only provide financial assistance to people in the seven-county metro area of Minnesota. Will you be expanding your area soon?
There are always talks of expanding our services, though I don’t think it’s accurate to say that any drastic changes will be made soon. We are proud of the fact that we are an intensely local organization: we serve our neighbors, and we like it that way. That being said, you never know what the future might bring!
What types of events can people in your area get involved in? What would draw patients, survivors and caretakers to participate?
We are always on the lookout for volunteers, and there are several ways to get involved in that capacity, including at our fundraising events and FCT programs. We often find that many of our volunteers have dealt with cancer in some capacity in their lives, so they are incredibly moved by our mission and have a deep, personal drive to help others.
Our program participants find us through many means and for many reasons. Sometimes, their greatest need is financial, sometimes it’s the educational/emotional component. Because we are so family focused, many people come to us to gather resources on how to talk to their kids: this is one unique niche we fill in the Twin Cities non-profit community.
Where can patients find out more and either donate or receive help?
The best place to start is out website: mnangel.org. Otherwise, we are more than happy to answer questions over the phone: 612-627-9000.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to cancer patients?
Try to remember (and believe) that you are NOT alone. WE ARE HERE TO HELP! We receive cards and emails on almost a daily basis from our program participants thanking us for our services. Overwhelmingly, one of the reoccurring phrases we see over and over is “thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone”. This is so important to us – we want to be there for you!
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to caregivers of cancer patients?
Honestly, the message is the same: you aren’t alone either! While the patient undoubtedly shoulders the bulk of the burden, caregivers often find themselves on the front lines, too, though experiencing different challenges unique to their position. Caregivers need support too, and shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.