Cancer Patient Support Program Inspires Volunteer Service, Provides National Best Practices Model…and Pound Cake

February 2, 2016

Patients, families and volunteers with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Cancer Patient Support Program have become accustomed to Hermine Heller’s signature gift: pound cakes.

“I bring them in on Thursday mornings, and they’re usually gone by 11 o’clock,” said Heller, a longtime resident of Reidsville, North Carolina. Until health concerns affected her schedule recently, she was one of about 30 regular volunteers with the program, which ministers to the social and psychological needs of patients and their families as they face the daily challenges of cancer.

The program provides counseling, patient education, support groups and other services to the community free of charge at Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. It has been offered at the Medical Center since 1980 and has been recognized by the National Cancer Policy Board as a best practices model for cancer centers nationwide.

– In honor of the program’s contributions to the community, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines issued a proclamation designating Wednesday, Jan. 20, as Cancer Patient Support Program Day in the city.

Heller was inspired to volunteer because of the cancer experience of her husband Douglas Powell. He lived for more than six years with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and credited Bayard Powell, M.D. (no relation to Douglas Powell), for providing excellent care.

“All of the doctors and nurses we worked with were wonderful, and the volunteers we met really meant a lot to us,” she said. “They answered all of our questions and made sure we were comfortable.”

In 2007, near the end of Douglas Powell’s life, the couple talked about how they could repay the kindness they had experienced.

“At that point, he knew he would never be able to give back,” she said. “I wanted to give back something for everything we had received. Before he died, we talked about me becoming a volunteer.”

Several months after Douglas Powell’s death, Heller began volunteer work with the program. Because she had started bringing in pound cakes for him during his illness, she simply continued sharing them on Thursdays, her regular day to volunteer.

Heller contributes more than food. Program volunteers talk with and listen to patients and their families as they share the emotions, fears and concerns common to those dealing with cancer.

“Hermine’s story represents a common thread in our volunteers,” said Program Director Richard McQuellon, Ph.D. “Most of them have chosen to give back to this Medical Center because of something they have received from it, directly or indirectly, for themselves or for those they care for.”

For Heller, the cakes are part of what she calls her ministry, feeding people spiritually and physically who rely on the program and its services.

“It’s my way of giving patients and families hope, friendship and love,” she said.

Financial support for the program is provided in part by Winterlark, an annual fundraising event scheduled this year for Saturday, Feb. 6. Since its inception in 1983, Winterlark has raised more than $5.3 million for the program.

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