Smoothing the Way for Cancer Patients

A Family and a Community Step Up to Help

For patients at UVA Cancer Center, things are about to get a little easier. As anyone who has battled cancer knows—or anyone who has helped a loved one on that journey—navigating the regimen of chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments can be daunting. It’s made even more complicated in a busy environment serving hundreds of other patients, all with specialized needs.

In UVA’s Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center, more than 200 cancer patients receive care every day. While there, patients have access to various resources, including computer tablets, art therapy sessions, financial counseling, and support groups. With that high volume of patients, it can be hard to ensure that patients know about all available resources.

That’s about to change. Soon, cancer patients will have a navigator for these services—a full-time Care and Comfort Concierge. This individual will monitor patients’ needs in clinic waiting rooms, answer questions, provide scheduling updates, offer healthy food and drinks, and generally see to each patient’s wellbeing and comfort.

“The concierge will offer a welcoming presence, ensuring that our patients feel cared for the minute they come through the door,” says Jody Reyes, MSBA, administrator, cancer services. “This position will also complement our new, real-time patient scheduling system. While the system helps us reduce wait times, the concierge will help patients feel comfortable and informed while they are here.”

The concierge position is made possible thanks to the family and friends of Leslie Gilliam, a former UVA Cancer Center patient who was well known for her service to the local community. For Gilliam, philanthropy and community service were both essential to solving problems that exist in all communities.

“Rallying around a common cause increases our sense of community and helps us accomplish big goals,” she once said. “That is where we get our heart and where we get to dream about what we can do together.”

When Gilliam passed away from ovarian cancer in 2016, she left a big gap in the lives of her family and friends. Many of these individuals channeled their grief into honoring Gilliam’s memory by contributing to a fund in her name. Gilliam’s family was so touched by the outpouring of support that they matched those community gifts with their own. The combined funds will pilot the concierge program for two years and create a nourishment fund for cancer patients undergoing treatment at the Couric Center.

“Healthy eating and providing care and comfort for cancer patients were very important concerns for my mother,” says Julia Gilliam, Leslie’s daughter. “It’s inspiring to see that, although she ultimately lost her battle with cancer, my mother’s influence is still at work, improving the lives of hundreds of patients daily.”