a support system for improving the quality of life

Cancer Survivor Forms Services Clearinghouse

From The Baltimore Sun, October 31, 1993

By Amy L. Miller, Staff Writer

Louis E. Yeager wants to help the medical community care for the whole person.  He knows that a positive patient surrounded by a supportive, calm environment often heals quicker than others.  For people who have terminal illnesses, it could mean the difference between life and death, said Mr. Yeager, a Finskburg resident.

‘Doctors are extremely aware about psychosocial effects on disease,’ he said.  ‘There are so many things that affect a patient’s recovery.  But very few [medical teams] want to add additional staff to deal with it.  If it doesn’t relate directly to a patient’s condition, there’s not much they can do.’  Mr. Yeager, president of Catastrophic Health Planners, feels he has the solution: Rather than force a patient to run from agency to agency finding the help they need, his new, nonprofit group will do it for them.

‘When you’re not feeling well, the last thing you want to do is drudge from organization to organization,’ he said.  Mr. Yeager said he knows that from personal experience.  In 1986, he was diagnosed as having cancer and was given six months to live.  He made his own rounds of the support agencies.  Recounting his battle, Mr. Yeager still seems angry about the ordeal.  His blue-gray eyes flash darkly, punctuating his words as he relives the diagnosis, the chemotherapy, the bone marrow transplant.  ‘Imagine being locked up in a room for three to four months, watching the seasons change, [being] extremely sick from high levels of chemotherapy to burn off the bone marrow,’ he said.  ‘I was dependent only on human ability to keep me alive.’

The night before his marrow transplant, Mr. Yeager discerned that his grandmother had died, news his family had tried to keep from him for days.  Soon afterward, hospital nurses began to hang shock pads, tongue depressors and other medical implements on the walls in preparation for the next day’s procedure.  ‘I was dealing with the trauma [of his grandmother’s death], of being violated for three months, was bleeding internally and then, adding insult to injury, they began to hang things on the wall like a circus,’ Mr. Yeager said.  ‘They said it was just precautionary, don’t worry.’

‘But they had forgotten the most important part: That there was a person sitting there with a mind inside dealing with the emotional problems of death.’

Transplant anticlimactic

The transplant–a syringe full of bone marrow was pumped into him through an IV tube–was anticlimactic, he said.  ‘My wife sat across from me, and when the doctor started the process, she walked out of the room crying,’ he said.  ‘I asked, “Does she know something I don’t know?”  We had done all that work, planning for the future for this one moment and it was going to be over one way or the other.’

Again, he said, he felt as if the medical team had not dealt with his family’s, or his, emotions.  ‘They had taken care of me physically, but not taken care of the whole patient,’ he said.  ‘That was my wake-up call.  I said, “If you survive this, maybe you can make a difference and make sure somebody doesn’t go through this.”‘

CHP is the fulfillment of that promise, Mr. Yeager said.  During the two years he was on disability from AAI Corp., a defense contractor in Cockeysville, the former project manager researched his concept.  When Mr. Yeager was laid off earlier this year, he incorporated CHP and began actively marketing his idea, he said.  He is awaiting word on his nonprofit tax status.

Comprehensive help

Patients enrolled in his program would have a comprehensive support system, ready to fulfill needs not directly serviced  by the medical community, Mr. Yeager said.  Members would not need to have a life-threatening illness, just one that could change their way of life.  ‘You can’t compare having a broken leg to cancer,’ he said.  ‘But if a truck driver breaks his leg, it could have the same effect on his family as someone with a terminal illness.’  If a person needed to apply for Social Security payments or enroll in a hospice program and didn’t feel well enough to do so, Mr. Yeager or an associate would take the information and stand in line for them, he said.

Patients interested in the latest medical research on their conditions, or seeking financial information, could request student interns working for Mr. Yeager search for it.  More complex problems would be handled by planners, accountants and lawyers in Mr. Yeager’s network who are experienced in dealing with catastrophic illness, he said.  People who just need a helping hand or someone to talk to could find that through CHP, too, he said.  ‘Sometimes the patient and his wife are having terrible arguments over things like “He doesn’t put the dishes in the dishwasher” or “She isn’t doing the laundry,”‘ Mr. Yeager said.  ‘These arguments cause terrible anxiety.  When it comes down to it, the arguments aren’t about these things, but that two people couldn’t say they love each other.’

Mr. Yeager said he doesn’t intend to replace the many patient support programs already in place.  He just wants to be a clearinghouse, a one-stop shop for patients to find out everything they need to know about their illness and planning for the future.  ‘I’m not reinventing the wheel,’ he said.  ‘I’m just streamlining the process so the patient doesn’t have to do the work, we will.’

Survival and change

But surviving cancer has changed him, Mr. Yeager said.  While writing strategic, financial, and business plans with AAI, Mr. Yeager said, he was most interested in career advancement.  ‘Prior to this, the bigger house, the vice presidency, the larger car and the trip to Europe were my goals.  It’s amazing how something like this changes your life and your values.  Your family has to deal with you on a different plane.  You’ll never be the same person.’

Now, he wants to help other people, make the world better and live life from day to day, he said.  One of his greatest desires, to become a father, is an impossibility after his intensive chemotherapy treatments.  ‘People ask me, “Aren’t you concerned about being laid off?” said Mr. Yeager.  ‘It doesn’t even rate.  It’s not a concern, compared to all I’ve faced so far.’  His wife, Fran, still works for AAI.

Faithful followers

Mr. Yeager’s idea and enthusiasm already have attracted several faithful followers.  A five-member board, representing aspects of patient care Mr. Yeager wants to address, is assembled.  Maurice Offit, a lawyer; Melvin Berman, an accountant; Abrial Fox, a financial planner; Susan Fields, a human resources representative; and Dr. Ruth Kantor, Mr. Yeager’s oncologist, are CHP‘s board members.

‘I think it’s a terrific idea,’ said Mr. Offit, who taught Mr. Yeager’s business law class at Towson State University in the early 1980s.  ‘From Lou’s standpoint, he’s one of the few people that beat the odds and he offers a unique perspective on what people need.  The key factor is taking control of the situation rather than being controlled by it.  He certainly did that, and personally, I think he can help others to do that as well.’  Mr. Berman, who joined the group through Mr. Offit, said Mr. Yeager’s enthusiasm brought him in.  ‘He is one amazing phenomenal individual that beat cancer,’ Mr. Berman said.  ‘He’s very sincere and has a true desire to let people know that if they get a catastrophic illness, it’s not the end of the world.  I was impressed with him at the first, and that’s why I’m involved.’

Mr. Yeager said payment for his services would come from a major hospital willing to incorporate this ideas into their patient support program.  Currently, he is negotiating with Johns Hopkins, Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the University of Maryland hospitals to have his program included in their patient support services.  ‘I don’t care if they steal my idea or let me do it myself,’ Mr. Yeager said.  ‘But we need a change.’


Representatives from each hospital said they had received proposals from Mr. Yeager, but were hesitant to say they had negotiated with him.  University of Maryland and GBMC officials declined to comment specifically on Mr. Yeager’s proposal.

‘I’ve met with him one time,’ said James Zabora, director of patient and family services at Hopkins.  ‘Our contact has been limited to one meeting, a letter to him and a letter back to me.  I assured him that during November we’d get together again and see if we had some common ground.’  Mr. Zabora said he doesn’t want to discourage Mr. Yeager, but said he is concerned that CHP‘s founder isn’t aware of the enormous task before him.  His fear is that Mr. Yeager’s dream will become another little-used program with few successes.  ‘I don’t want to do a disservice to this man.  He is really trying to do something to benefit people,’ said Mr. Zabora, noting that their philosophies of patient treatment are very similar.  ‘But I firmly believe that we don’t need more programs if those that we have currently aren’t being fully utilized.’  For example, his work with the American Cancer Society has shown that people in lower-income areas often don’t call cancer hot lines for information.  ‘We know by the zip codes that in those areas’ there is a higher incidence of cancer, Mr. Zabora said.  ‘We know they are there, but they aren’t calling for information.  How do you deal with that problem?’  The group’s current solution is to encourage church groups and community centers to offer the same information.  ‘We think they might be more willing to use the information if it was coming from someone they know rather than a distant hospital or a 1-800 number,’ he said.  If Mr. Yeager could reach the people he hopes to help, Mr. Zabora said, the volume of requests might overwhelm him.

‘He talks about having a 24-hour hotline, and I asked him how he will do that,’ Mr. Zabora said.  ‘He said he and his wife would do that, and I told him that hotline work is a “monumental” undertaking.  The American Cancer Society’s hotline in Maryland–equipped with research directories and resource material to answer questions immediately–received 10,000 calls last year, he said.  ‘That’s 30 phone calls a day,’ Mr. Zabora said.  ‘I love his energy and I love his commitment and dedication to doing something for cancer patients and their families.  But I’m not sure if he understands the time commitment involved with the type of things he wants to do.  When I was talking to our public relations person here, I said “I wish  we could channel his energy into making something happen that may be more beneficial to patients and their families.”‘

Mr. Yeager admits that medical professionals seem to scorn his work.  Regardless of the obstacles, he said, he is determined to succeed.  If an established patient services program will not accept him, he will strike out on his own to solicit $100-a-year memberships from doctors, lawyers, accountants and financial planners to provide support for their clients, he said.  ‘I just want to work with one patient at a time,’ Mr. Yeager said.  ‘I can’t change the world.  I can’t cure everything.  But if my organization helps one person, then I know I’ve been successful.’

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