Q&A: Susan Newman, founder
Knoxville oncologist Susan Newman founded the L5 (Live Five) Foundation to help cancer patients and their families with basic needs like food, paying bills, affording gas to travel for treatment, and caregiving breaks. The foundation’s name comes from the five principles on which it was founded: the faith to believe, hope to endure, determination to overcome, strength to survive, and passion to win.
Because hospitals and cancer treatment centers already have a system for identifying patients who need help, donations to L5 are then directed to these other foundations to further fund their support programs. L5 also partners with other support programs, which also use their existing criteria to identify needy patients. Through these partners, L5 served helped more than 7,000 people last year. Newman says L5 gave $30,000 last year to Mobile Meals, more than $5,000 for Angels of Hope food baskets over Christmas, $10,000 in gas cards, and around $20,000 to a new program called Restful Respite that pays for a sitter to give family caregivers a break.
How did the idea for the L5 Foundation come about?
I was inspired to start this foundation because of my patients and seeing the struggles they go through when they come in with a diagnosis of cancer. Most of the time when you talk about cancer you talk about cures and research and donating money to find ways to treat cancer. But … we have millions of people in this world living with cancer—not dying of cancer, but living with cancer as a chronic illness.
Even when a patient comes in with insurance, when you take into account the cost of treatment being on average well over $100,000, you’re talking about somebody having to come up with 20 percent of that. That’s a huge financial burden for a regular middle-class person. They may or may not be able to work, and they’re just wondering: How will I be able to make a living and pay my bills? How will I put food on the table?
Was there a particular situation that really brought this home to you?
I’ll never forget—I had a 23-year-old girl come in. She had a brain tumor. She had insurance—terrible insurance. We were able to get funding for a lot of her treatment through other foundations. She came in and said, “I appreciate what you did for me, but how am I going to live? I can’t work. I have nothing to live on.” It’s things like this that bring things into perspective for you. Even though we’re doing everything we can to offset the costs of their treatments, people are still struggling to make ends meet and be able to afford to exist. The L5 foundation was started back in 2015. It took us a while to figure out what we wanted our niche to be. She definitely helped put it in perspective where I wanted the funds to go to.
It was me hearing stories of people going through treatment over the holidays and they don’t have the money to do Christmas for their kids or to get Christmas dinner. I had been doing Angel of Hope food baskets on my own for several years first. A woman told me, “If you all hadn’t given me this basket, I wouldn’t have had anything under my tree this year.” It’s stories like that I hear every day that just truly break your heart, and you just want to do everything you can to help these people.
Often, doctors seem too busy with the nuts and bolts of treatment to try to address the practical needs of the patient. Why do you think you responded differently?
I’ve dedicated my life to taking care of people. … Just taking care of their medical needs was just not enough for me.
My job is hard. It’s an emotional roller coaster almost every day. I don’t get to give a lot of good news. But the things that I do with the foundation are happy things, even though I’m helping somebody who may possibly be dying from cancer. … That’s hard, but that’s part of my job. But I also enjoy getting to do the feel-good things that hopefully do impact these patients in one way or another that’s more of a positive.
What impact have you seen already? Are there some success stories you’d like to share?
The Caring Plate provides food for a cancer patient during the time they’re going through treatment, but also for the family, at $6 a meal. That’s a very important thing, because if you’ve got a young female being treated for breast cancer, and she has kids and Dad is working all day, who’s going to fix food for those kids? They made sure they got at least one good meal a day.
We had a patient who lives in a small town in North Carolina and had radiation five days a week for seven weeks, driving four hours round-trip over the Dragon. So we made sure he had gas cards to get the treatment.
What are your long-term goals for the foundation? How do you envision your role over time?
We want to be able to expand what we’re doing as far as allocating more to emergency funds, expand our restful respite program, and start offering new programs. I’m getting ideas all the time. Ultimately my goal for this foundation is to make it more than East Tennessee. I would love to see an L5 foundation in communities all across the nation. If we can set up chapters in other towns and other communities, our premise is what you make in your community stays in your community.
• L5 cancer support programs provide gas cards, food baskets, meals, counseling, gift cards, and free caregiver services to cancer patients and their families.
• The Chairman’s Club provides grants to youth sports, arts, education, and health care groups and associations.
How You Can Help
• Donate through the foundation website, and check its Facebook page (facebook.com/l5foundation) for periodic food-themed fundraisers you can attend to benefit the foundation.
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