Helping patients pay the cost of fighting cancer

South Jersey Cancer Fund members include volunteer Gloria Jacoby, of Brigantine, left, Treasurer Brenda Rupp, of Mays Landing, and President Joe McNally, of Mays Landing.

Gloria Jacoby walks on the beach in her hometown of Brigantine every morning. But that's the only beach time she gets.

For the last four years she has spent the rest of the day as the volunteer patient liaison for the South Jersey Cancer Fund, helping people with expenses that fall outside of insurance.

"It's really a full-time social work job," she said. "We'll get calls and some people need help immediately."

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For awhile this year Jacoby was worried that the fund might have to temporarily stop taking new clients, because its revenues had dropped so low.

"But then we got some more donations than we anticipated, so we're back," she said. "But we still need to build it up."

Now in its 49th year, the volunteer-run effort typically distributes more than $200,000 per year to help cancer patients in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties pay for things insurance doesn't cover.

The maximum amount a patient can receive is $1,000, and in 2012 about $220,000 was distributed to 390 people president Joe McNally of Mays Landing said. That's almost double the amount give out a decade ago, and demand has grown each year.

McNally said since every member of the group is a volunteer, so almost all of its funds go directly to patients. A small amount pays for the phone line and supplies. He said the group has about 25 members, many of whom hold fund-raising events around the county. Hurricane Sandy cut into their efforts at the end of last year, but they are back up and running.

While patients can call the fund directly, the group typically works through social workers and hospitals. McNally said there is no red tape or extensive forms to fill out - if the social worker says someone needs help, the group will help them. Jacoby works with treasurer Brenda Rupp to make the payments.

Jacoby said the group has helped pay for hospice care, home health aides, medical supplies and transportation. Typically the checks are made out directly to the agency, and some give the group a special rate. They've also paid a lot of electric bills.

"I don't know how many times I've called to have someone's electricity turned back on," she said.

Cathy Sutman, a social worker for Atlanticare Cancer Care Institute said the fund is vital to filling funding caps.

"I call them for things that I can't get anywhere else." she said. "Patients have so many out-of-pocket costs."

Sonia Santiagoof Atlantic City has battled cancer for three years and the $1,000 she received help pay for travel costs and her electric bill. Her parents helped with car repairs and medications, but the bills added up, especially since she could not work and has a son with chronic asthma.

"There are no other places that help with the things they helped me with," she said. "(Jacoby) was so nice. I am really very appreciative."

(Donations can be sent to South Jersey Cancer Fund at PO Box 1084 Brigantine, NJ 08203. Call (609) 266-0616)

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