Last night, I had the opportunity to speak at the annual JustAdvice Year End Reception.
JustAdvice is a program through the University of Maryland Law School (UMSOL) that seeks to provide legal services to lower middle class and working poor families in Baltimore City. The goal of the program is to offer affordable, low cost and quality services to those who do not qualify for Legal Aid services but may not have the resources to hire a private attorney.
JustAdvice is run by a team of dedicated and compassionate law students who go to school just steps from the Cancer Center. Kat Hyland and Sean McCarthy are the student leaders who will graduate in about a month from UMSOL. Leigh Maddox, Esq., is the professor and attorney who oversees the program. Seasoned lawyers volunteer their time to help Baltimore City residents navigate through a often complex and frightening legal system.
In our navigation work with young adult patients at UMGCC we have noticed that many families have legal issues that develop during treatment or they come to a cancer diagnosis with a whole host of legal issues that predate even the earliest symptoms of their disease. While the Ulman Fund‘s focus is adjustment to and navigation through the cancer experience, legal issues are often so closely intertwined that they cannot be separated.
Imagine for a moment that you have to choose between paying for over-the-counter pain medicines and transportation to treatment OR your rent. You might let several rent payments slide and suddenly you are in danger of being evicted in the middle of chemotherapy. Or you know you have at least a month in the hospital of induction chemotherapy but can’t lie in your hospital bed focusing on getting well because your mind keeps going back to your child’s upcoming parole hearing. Or that your cancer has brought such stress into your marriage that your spouse is seeking a legal separation.
About a year ago I began discussing a potential partnership with Sean, Kat and Leigh, and shared with them what I was seeing with young adult cancer patients. I knew that legal struggles were not unique to the cancer population. Folks dealing with chronic diabetes, or heart bypass, or complicated pregnancies also have many legal challenges. With the help Cancer Center and UMMC leadership, JustAdvice began holding their “clinic” every other Thursday in Patient Education Resource Area.
Cancer patients and those living with other diseases have little time to do much of anything not treatment related. One of the greatest advantages of the JustAdvice program is that it is held in the same location where families have to be anyway and in a place they have already trusted with saving their own or family member’s life.
Kat and one of the program’s upcoming student leaders, Mike Raykher, have also both gone through the Ulman Fund’s volunteer peer mentor training. This enables them to visit patients in their rooms when they are not well enough to come to the Thursday clinic.