Interview with Dena Hunt, Resource Counselor, McDowell Cancer Center at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Medical Center
Colleen Iacianci: “Thanks so much for taking some time to be interviewed, Dena! Can you tell me a little bit about where you work and your current role?”
Dena Hunt: “Thanks for having me! I am one of 2 Resource Counselors/social workers at the McDowell Cancer Center at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Medical Center. We navigate all new patients coming through for chemotherapy or radiation treatment in downtown Akron or one of our 3 satellite locations. We feel it is very important for all new cancer patients to know we are available, even if they may not have any current needs. Things come up! We provide new patient packets so they have our information if needs do arise. We can help with a variety of concerns: financial support, emotional support, social security disability questions…I always tell people we are a miscellaneous catchall when they have a question and don’t know who to start with or where to turn.”
C: “How wonderful to be an available resource even when folks may not yet know what they need. Can you tell me a little bit about your educational background and what led you to your current role?”
D: “I graduated from Ohio State in 2000 with a degree in Journalism so a long way from what I am doing now. I went back to Case Western Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences for my Graduate degree in 2002 and graduated in 2004. Before Akron General I worked in the Chemical Dependency field, most recently at Oriana House in the Felony Drug Court Program. In June of 2011 there was an open position for an inpatient social worker which I was eventually hired for so I worked on the inpatient side of things for 3 years before coming over to McDowell Cancer Center. I have been in my current position for 6 ½ years and I have been with Cleveland Clinic Akron General for 9 ½ years. Truth be told I was very uncertain about making the move to the Cancer Center when the position presented itself. The summer between my first and second year in my graduate program I lost my Dad to lung cancer. Through conversation with family and friends I came to the realization that the position in the Cancer Center may have been the world working in a mysterious way to put me in a position to help others going through something similar to what I had been through with my Dad. I had 26 years with him and now believe that I am lucky for the paths I cross with the patients that I meet. I have learned some very valuable lessons from some very special people.”
C: “What a beautiful path you’ve taken to end up in a position to help so many people touched by cancer! Can you tell us a little about how you first became aware of the Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. Family Cancer Foundation?”
D: “Monica [Stevens, Executive Director] stopped by the hospital to drop something off for my predecessor and we instantly clicked. I knew about the foundation from what had been introduced to me but through the years have learned bits and pieces that mean the most. The super quick turn around (of financial application approval) is paramount in my mind. When patients can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that mortgage or rent is paid that is huge for them. To not have to worry or wait and wonder is an enormous weight lifted for them. The cancer diagnosis is just the first piece for so many patients but the worries fall like dominoes after that…what about my family, what about work, what about insurance, what about bills, what about groceries, what about gas to get to treatment, it’s never-ending for a lot of our patients. Also the fact that any cancer diagnosis can apply is also a huge benefit. We have some foundations that are site specific but this is an application we can give to anyone coming to us regardless of primary tumor site.”
C: “Thank you Dena for your time today! Before we sign off, I’m wondering if you’d be open to sharing any specific stories of how the Foundation has impacted a patient of yours?
D: “I actually have a couple of specific stories I’d like to share. I had a patient that could manage her monthly bills ok but did not have any extra each month. She had quit smoking after her lung cancer diagnosis and wanted to repaint the inside of her home to try and help get rid of the smoke smell. She priced out the primer and paint, submitted her application with what she was asking for and Monica and I met at Sherwin Williams, bought the supplies and went and delivered to her house. It was definitely and outside of the box request but I told her to go ahead and ask! It’s those little things that can really mean the world during someone’s treatment journey.
Another story I love is I had a patient who had to have teeth pulled prior to his treatment of oral cancer. Once he finished his treatment he wanted to pursue dentures but could not afford them and his insurance would not cover them. I had the patient complete and submit an application with his request for a set of dentures and I went to work calling different providers around Akron and linked up with one willing to work with the patient, myself and the Foundation. We were able to get the patient in for an assessment and an estimate. Once we had that Monica mailed a check so we could get the patient his set of dentures! It’s incredible how much of a boost of confidence and joy this brought the patient. The Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. Family Cancer Foundation has always been willing to think outside the box and although the majority of the applications submitted are for assistance with mortgage, rent and utilities these other situations do come up and can be life changing as well! Just think, something as basic as teeth which he no longer had because of his cancer diagnosis and the Foundation made it happen!!
People have expressed a great amount of relief to me when they find out help is available for daily living expenses. They feel that they are able to focus on their diagnosis and treatment because for just a little bit they know that their mortgage or rent is paid or their utilities are up to date. This is a huge burden lifted for them!
C: “Dena, we so very much appreciate your time today sharing your work and your collaborations over the years with the Foundation.”
D: “Thank you for having me, I love working with the Foundation to support those affected by cancer in our community!”