Local residents lead St. Clair County fight against cancer

Front row, from left: Jessica Lotz (Community Event Committee Chair), Pam Funk, Janice Wiegmann, PhD., R.N. (Advocacy Co-Chair), Kathy Federico (Board Chair), Ruth Holmes, Mark Peters, Heather Braudmeier (Secretary), Lynda Cozad. Back row, from left: Brett Schuette (ACS, Sr. Market Manager), John Marquart, David Hopkins (Board Vice-Chair), Debbie Brauer, Pat Ryan, Dr. John Visconti. Not pictured: Amy Balance (Mission Implementation Committee Chair), Barb Hohlt, Paula Matthew-Nixon, Rhonda Pour (Advocacy Co-Chair), and Jay Tebbe. (O'Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

Front row, from left: Jessica Lotz (Community Event Committee Chair), Pam Funk, Janice Wiegmann, PhD., R.N. (Advocacy Co-Chair), Kathy Federico (Board Chair), Ruth Holmes, Mark Peters, Heather Braudmeier (Secretary), Lynda Cozad. Back row, from left: Brett Schuette (ACS, Sr. Market Manager), John Marquart, David Hopkins (Board Vice-Chair), Debbie Brauer, Pat Ryan, Dr. John Visconti. Not pictured: Amy Balance (Mission Implementation Committee Chair), Barb Hohlt, Paula Matthew-Nixon, Rhonda Pour (Advocacy Co-Chair), and Jay Tebbe. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

O’FALLON – Brett Schuette had a really great regional leadership board, but there were some fundamental problems and he knew he needed to make some changes.

Schuette, who is a Senior Market Manager for the American Cancer Society, realized his board stretched from from as far north as Alton, south to Monroe County, from Clinton County to the east, and to East St. Louis in the west. The area was just too large to manage.

“What I found is that while everyone was happy to come and the board did fantastic work, the travel time was an issue and you may only have one person represent a large area, like Monroe County. A majority of our cancer patients are from Madison and St. Clair County. I took a look at our service numbers in those counties, because we’re always looking to improve and increase the number of patients we’re assisting,” Schuette said. “With all of the hospitals, medical facilities, and Scott Air Force Base, St. Clair County made a lot of sense to base the new board here. Once St. Elizabeth’s announced their plans to build in O’Fallon and Memorial East completed their construction, we decided to start the board in O’Fallon.”

Schuette then began recruiting local leaders from around St. Clair County to serve on the board and bring their knowledge and experience to the table.

“When I first approached people about serving on the board, they asked what they would be asked to do. I told them I didn’t want to answer that because then I’d be putting them into my box. I said I’ll orient you to our organization, I’ll give you information about our programs and services, I’ll show you our fundraising numbers, and you guys can decide how you want to move forward. And I think that freedom really appealed to a lot of people,” Schuette said.

The board was given one mission by Schuette – to identify areas where it can improve treatment for cancer patients in St. Clair County.

Kathy Federico serves as the board’s chairwoman. She said believes input from all different sectors will allow the board to function well to serve local patients.

“The board is made up of all kinds of community leaders. We have the medical community, the business community, the air force base, the health department. We’re receiving input from a lot of folks that touch cancer patients and we want to put everyone’s energy into improving the care for those patients,” said Federico.

The board held its first meeting in July, 2015, and spent most of the rest of the year determining how it needed to develop and to create its internal structure. The group hit the ground running in January and began their work.

Schuette said one of the first things the board did was establish subcommittees to help focus energy in different directions.

“We wanted to make as much of an impact as quickly as possible. We knew that more hands leads to easier lifting and so we started organizing committees. Community events really focuses on the Wine Witches and Walk event that we’re having in October and our Relay for Life event. Then we have our mission implementation committee that focuses on our services. The third committee is called ACS CAN (American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network) which is our advocacy arm. They keep the board informed of what is happening in Springfield and Washington DC and they have gone to both to lobby on our behalf,” Schuette said.

Federico explained that she envisions the board as having two divisions, with the subcommittees working within one of the two areas.

“We have two separate divisions. We have mission implementation where we work to go about fulfilling our mission of improving cancer treatments in St. Clair County. But then, of course, a lot of the programs associated with achieving that goal, need fundraising. So the other side is community involvement. This is where Relay for Life, Wine Witches and Walk, and things like that come into play so we can raise funds to support the American Cancer Society,” said Federico.

Dave Hopkins, who serves as the board’s vice-chairman, said the mission implementation arm has been working hard recruiting volunteer drivers for the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program.

“We’re here to start something, get something moving and develop something. On the mission implementation side, we’re really trying hard to solicit drivers. We’re looking for drivers, volunteers, who wish to give patients rides to their medical appointments. From there we’ll contact medical providers to see how we can meet their goals. That has been a challenge, but it’s going well. We’ve solicited a lot of groups that have responded positively,” said Hopkins.

Road to Recovery is a curb to curb transportation service. It’s a completely volunteer driven program where drivers pick up cancer patients at their home and then drive them to their doctor’s offices for treatment.

Hopkins said that while the board has its work cut out for them, he believes its serving a much needed role.

“Everybody knows someone that has been impacted by cancer. On a local basis, with two hospitals setting up here, its presents a great opportunity for the community to make life a lot easier for victims of the disease,” said Hopkins.