As a longtime MD Anderson volunteer and patient advocate, the late George Vietor realized what a big difference little things can make in the life of a patient.
In 1991, he spearheaded the creation of an endowment to fund a wide range of programs and amenities not traditionally supported by cancer center funds.
The Volunteer Endowment for Patient Support – VEPS for short – has granted many requests over the years for programs and resources that bring comfort and support to patients and their families, including blanket warmers in clinics, patient education materials and survivorship celebrations.
“People expect leading-edge medical care when they come to MD Anderson. They’re pleasantly surprised by the ‘extras’ that enhance the patient experience,” says Frances Snipes, a director in Volunteer Services and Merchandising, which administers VEPS.
Through donations and fundraising efforts, the endowment has grown to $3.9 million and distributed more than $3.1 million for patient amenities and programs to date.
Each quarter, the interest generated from the endowment is used to fund initiatives for patients. A few of the projects funded in 2017 include:
- Young adult support group
- Patient and caregiver snack-chat social hour for lymphoma and myeloma inpatients
- Breast reconstruction awareness (BRA) workbook and education
- Inpatient holiday luncheon and gift distribution
- Chapel flowers to enhance prayer, worship and meditation
- Caregiver support programs
- Education binders for newly admitted hematology patients
- myCancerConnection cancer survivorship conference
- Lodging, transportation, meals and parking assistance for qualifying patients
VEPS began as a grassroots movement funded by cookbook sales, fashion shows and art auctions. The annual VEPS luncheon, held each spring, is now the endowment’s principal fundraiser.
This year’s luncheon co-chairs Rahul Agrawal, Caroline Brown and Rachel Cruz are cancer survivors who share their thoughts about supporting VEPS and volunteering at MD Anderson.
“During my time as a cancer patient at MD Anderson, I learned what a difference small comforts can make. The heated blankets were the best – everyone loved them. I’m pleased to now be supporting the program that provided funding for those blankets and so much more. Patients come here from all over the world to seek care. The little things help them feel closer to home.”
In addition to co-chairing the 2018 VEPS Luncheon, Agrawal provides one-on-one support to cancer patients through myCancerConnection, where newly diagnosed patients are connected with survivors who have “been there.” He is a myCancerConnection Steering Committee member and volunteers with myCancerConnection’s Cancer180 program for young adult survivors ages 18-39.
“When I was a patient at MD Anderson, I saw firsthand how important volunteers are to patients, caregivers and the medical staff. I decided the best way to give back to the cancer center that gave me so much was to volunteer. It’s a rewarding experience that I look forward to every week. Cancer is no easy feat – our patients’ strength, resilience and determination motivate me to volunteer.”
Besides serving as a 2018 VEPS Luncheon co-chair, Brown is an inpatient volunteer in the evenings, and a member of MD Anderson’s Advance Team, a volunteer leadership board whose members initiate philanthropic and awareness events to advance the institution’s mission to eliminate cancer.
“I know how overwhelming it can be to intellectually and emotionally process a cancer diagnosis, then to navigate your way through treatment. If I can educate new patients and caregivers about resources available to them, or make their cancer journey less daunting by sharing my experiences, I feel like I’ve made a contribution.”
Not only is Cruz serving as a 2018 VEPS Luncheon co-chair, but she also is an Advance Team member, myCancerConnection and Coffee Cart volunteer, and past chair of the myCancerConnection Steering Committee and the myCancerConnection Cancer Survivorship Conference.