The Chicago-based Coleman Foundation, established in 1951 by former Fannie May Candies company owners Dorothy and J.D. Stetson Coleman, works toward its founders’ vision of creating opportunities that empower people to improve their quality of life in the Chicago area. Among the foundation’s tenets is offering support that empowers people to have over their own paths through cancer care and treatment, along with programs for people with developmental disabilities and entrepreneurship education.

It’s about knowing resources in your community,” said Mike Hennessy, president and CEO of the foundation. “It’s acting on your own behalf…and having the knowledge to do that.

A focus of Coleman’s Cancer program is to improve cancer care. In 1981, the foundation began aiding cancer research and then cancer support centers, which provide patients support following hospital treatments. It was in the cancer support centers that the Coleman Foundation Directors discovered where the foundation could make a significant impact.

In the late 1990s, Coleman began increasing funding toward supportive care after noting that programs, such as nutrition counseling and psychosocial care following cancer treatment had a direct benefit for cancer patients. While the benefits of supportive care are apparent, many Chicago area patients and families lack access to services and struggle with unmet needs.

The foundation noted that a gap in supportive care is partly because providers did not know how to implement or fund the programs — and partly due to a lack of collaboration in cancer treatment among Chicago-area hospitals and community providers. After decades of funding various cancer providers in efforts to fill these gaps and improve access to care, The Coleman Foundation launched the Supportive Oncology Collaborative in 2014.

National cancer organizations, including the Institute of Medicine in a 2013 report, began recognizing the importance of supportive care for cancer patients from diagnosis through survivorship and end of life. The time was right to capture the momentum and build upon years of funding and relationships.

The following year, Coleman initiated a Pediatric Supportive Oncology Collaborative to better supportive care service delivery for children, adolescents and young adults with cancer.

The Supportive Oncology Collaborative aims to assess and deliver psychosocial supports, such as counseling, to cancer patients and their families, from diagnosis throughout their lifespan. It also seeks to educate providers, patients and payers about the benefits of psychosocial services and to share findings and tools with healthcare professionals.

Recognizing the shortage of primary care providers who are trained to provide palliative and supportive care for cancer patients, Coleman formed a Primary Palliative Medicine Training Program. It is recommended that palliative care begin at the time of diagnoses with a serious illness to assist patients with issues such as pain and symptom management and stress. The program trains doctors, nurses, social workers and chaplains across the region in primary palliative care.

These initiatives, supported by the Coleman Foundation, provide cancer patients with education and support that give them tools to choose their treatment path while also offering help managing factors such as stress, diet and post-cancer healing.

Since forming the Supportive Oncology Collaborative, the Coleman Foundation has highlighted the importance of hospitals working together and creating training, tools and processes for supportive oncology. The foundation finds sharing information among supportive care programs can help ensure a regional impact on cancer care, and lead to the day when all cancer patients in the Chicago area will have access to supportive care, and receive the services they need from well-trained providers.

We're committed to cancer care in Chicago and the quality of the programming here,” Hennessy said. “We’re in it for the long haul.