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A Journey of Hope:

How the Barnes Foundation is a "Driving Force" in Cancer Care

By Laura Kuhn

A cancer diagnosis generates an untold number of questions - "Can I be cured?" "How am I going to tell my family?" "What if it spreads?"

"How am I going to get to my treatments?" should never be one of those questions. That's why the Barnes Foundation has paired with the American Cancer Society's Illinois Patient Navigation Services to help fund Road to Recovery, a program that provides transportation to and from treatment for cancer patients who are unable to drive themselves to their appointments.

There are three key components of the Road to Recovery program: financial supporters, such as the Barnes Foundation; volunteers who give their time and resources to transport patients to their appointments and, last but not least, the patients themselves.

The Barnes Foundation: Helping to make it possible

The Barnes Foundation was established in 2008 by Terry Barnes, founder and president of Professional Medical, Inc. Terry was inspired to create the foundation as a way of giving back to the community that had supported his company since its doors first opened in 1968. He decided the foundation's mission would be to "improve the lives of those around us as well as the world in which we live."

The Barnes Foundation's inaugural event was 2009's Walk for Life, a 5K walk that raised more than $30,000 for the Illinois Patient Navigation Services, specifically the Road to Recovery program. The foundation's $30,000 donation was matched by the Duchossois Family Foundation for a combined donation of $60,000. This was enough to fund the Road to Recovery program for almost an entire year.

The Barnes Foundation chose to focus their first charitable efforts on cancer because "cancer touches every person in some way," according to Amy Gollan, the foundation's president. In fact, Terry Barnes's sister is currently fighting sarcoma. Gollan was touched by the tremendous impact that something as simple as a ride could have. "Many patients would not make it to critical appointments without the help of the people dedicated to this amazing program," she said. "Providing rides might seem small, but it can truly save lives." Since the first Walk for Life was so successful, the Barnes Foundation decided to host the Second Annual Walk/Run for Life on August 28, 2010. That event raised more than $37,000, which will again benefit the Illinois Patient Navigation Services.

Harry Gramse: Giving his time to help others

When Harry Gramse was laid off from his job in the early '80s, he didn't panic. "Something told me I would be back working in a year and not to worry about it," the New Lenox, Illinois resident said. "I thought to myself, God's giving me a year off. I might as well give something back to Him."

As it turned out, Gramse was right. He was back on the job a year later – but he didn't stop giving his time to help others.

At the time, Gramse's wife was involved with hospice care. Gramse began volunteering at the hospice as well as with the American Cancer Society. He's been a driver for the Road to Recovery program, off and on, since the early '80s.

Gramse's driving takes him all over Chicagoland, and he meets all types of people. Some people want to talk with him, others don't. Some will volunteer what type of cancer they have while others keep that information to themselves. Other than all having cancer, what unites the group is that they're all grateful and genuine people, Gramse said.

While the patients are receiving their treatments, Gramse usually settles into a hospital waiting room with a good book. When their appointments end, he helps them back to his car, sometimes in a wheelchair if they are feeling weak. He recalls that he once had a tough time trying to find a comfortable way to fasten one woman's seatbelt because she was in so much pain.

Over the years, Gramse has had many patients try to tip him for his services, and he's explained that not only can he not accept their money, he doesn't want it. The rewards of being involved with the program are payment enough. "The most rewarding part is when they say ‘thank you,' Gramse said.

Sharon Grossklaus: Taking the Road to Recovery

For most people, the hospital is one of the last places they'd want to celebrate a birthday. That's not the case for Sharon Grossklaus. The Joliet, Illinois resident underwent thyroid cancer surgery the day before her fortieth birthday. She recalls that birthday as "the best birthday ever – because I was alive."

Grossklaus credits that positive outlook with inspiring her to keep fighting what has already been a long battle with cancer. Her first cancer diagnosis came on October 10 of 2002, when doctors discovered that she had thyroid cancer. Over the next eight years, that cancer would spread to her liver, her lungs, her bones and back to her neck. She also underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction as a preventative measure. Her cancer treatments have taken Grossklaus to both Lexington, Kentucky and Chicago – and the American Cancer Society has been there for her all along the way. In Lexington, Grossklaus stayed at the ACS's Hope Lodge, which provides free overnight lodging for cancer patients and their caregivers in an effort to lessen what is already an emotional and financial burden. The patients who stay there rally around each other and often cook group dinners. Occasionally a group of volunteers comes in to cook for everyone and plan game nights.

"I totally believe that the Hope Lodge brings new meaning to the word ‘hope,'" Grossklaus said. When she began receiving cancer treatments at the University of Chicago, one of Grossklaus's friends told her about the ACS's Road to Recovery program. She's received at least a dozen rides into Chicago through the program. "I can't say enough about the pleasant atmosphere that the drivers bring to the patients," she said. "They're so nice, so caring, so understanding, so compassionate. They're absolutely wonderful."

Grossklaus doesn't sugar-coat her prognosis. She currently has Stage IV cancer in her bones and lungs. "I was told ‘Your cancer is advanced. There is no cure. All I can do is give you time,'" she said. "So I asked ‘How can I get the most time possible?'" She learned about a clinical trial at the University of Chicago that was showing positive results and could possibly prolong her life.

"I asked for the paper right away to sign up for the trial," Grossklaus said. "I'd rather live than die." The clinical trial is a time-consuming process. Grossklaus often spends all day at the hospital having her blood drawn and seeing doctors. Many times, the Road to Recovery drivers stay by her side to keep her spirits up and help her pass the time.

Grossklaus will remain on the clinical trial drug as long her cancer does not metastasize. She has started to lose her hair from the treatment. "My son said ‘Mom, what are you going to do if your hair keeps falling out?'" she said. "I told him ‘I'll just have to shine my head! I'll be like Mrs. Kojak!'"

Grossklaus is fighting for her life, and she views her sense of humor and positive outlook as two of the most powerful weapons in her arsenal. "You have to be positive," she said. "I totally believe that someone who views cancer with a negative attitude will not have the same life expectancy as someone who goes into it with a positive attitude and a sense of humor."