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Wings Radiothon: Annual fundraiser benefits nonprofit cancer support

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | January 20, 2022 12:00 AM

When a patient hears they’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to absorb anything that’s spoken afterward.

“Their whole world is upside down and they don’t have a clue about where they’re going to go next,” said Registered Nurse Tammy Craig. “Their brain can’t hold onto the information they’re being told.”

Patients and their families begin thinking about doctors' appointments and treatment schedules, along with focusing on recovery to get well. Then for some comes worries about having the additional money to pay for transportation, meals and other costs that put a strain on their budget.

When a cancer patient is facing a financial barrier to accessing treatment that goes beyond the cost of medicine and medical care, that’s when the nonprofit Wings organization is able to step in to provide assistance.

Connecting cancer patients with Wings Regional Cancer Support is something Craig and her two fellow nurse navigators Angela Knox and Kim Grindrod at Logan Health have done countless times. The goal of patient navigators is to be a gateway to health services assuring that patients receive the education and support they need.

“We’re the glue that brings everything together,” Craig explains. “We’re a resource for them and provide a sigh of relief that they’re not going to get lost in the shuffle.”

So when a patient needs treatment out of state, but can’t afford the transportation costs they help that patient connect with Wings. Or when a patient who lives in Libby needs to have radiation treatments weekly so they need to stay in Kalispell that means they have to figure out the cost of housing and meals.

Wings provides financial assistance for out-of-pocket expenses associated with cancer treatments for patients of all ages from Flathead and Lincoln counties and parts of Lake County. It reimburses patients for expenses such as food travel and lodging. An all-volunteer board reviews applications and distributes funds.

The 26th annual Wings radiothon fundraiser is Thursday, Jan. 20 and Friday, Jan. 21.

Through the years, Wings has raised over $2 million and more than 2,000 families have received assistance through Wings.

Cancer disrupts someone’s entire life, but it can also mean a list of unexpected expenses and for some who were already struggling to pay the bills it’s even tougher, the nurses note.

“Wings is really a benefit to assist patients,” Craig said. “A cancer diagnosis isn’t easy and what doesn’t make it any easier is the logistical and financial side of it. Without Wings, these patients wouldn’t be able to get the treatment they need.”

Knox says Wings has been able to help patients with the travel expenses of seeking medical care out of state. It’s not unusual for a patient to need treatment that’s not available locally, she notes.

“When you can barely afford to make ends meet, having Wings as a source is hugely beneficial,” she said. “Wings is great working with patients in their unique situations to help enable them to afford those other expenses when seeking treatment.”

Wings was founded in 1995 by Ray Washtak, a local cancer survivor, and Jennifer Schaffner, a social worker serving then at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

After so many years, today it is not unusual for the nurse navigators to help connect a patient with Wings who themselves have in the past donated to the organization.

“They keep the money where it’s raised,” Craig notes. “I’ve talked with patients who have donated in the past, but really didn’t know how impactful the assistance could be until they needed it themselves.”

The 26th annual Wings radiothon is being broadcast live from Sportsman and Ski Haus from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both Thursday, Jan. 20 and Friday, Jan. 21. Donations can be made in-person at Sportsman, mailed to Wings at P.O. Box 7852, Kalispell, MT 59904, or made over the phone at 406-257-WING (9464).

For more information, visit https://www.wingsnwmontana.org/

Features editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.

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