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Meet Michelle Ernsdorff-May of Compass to Care Childhood Cancer Foundation in Edison Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Ernsdorff-May.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Michelle. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 1974, I was diagnosed with a Wilm’s tumor in my right kidney. There was not a pediatric oncologist in our hometown of Dubuque, IA… So we traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for 18 months for the removal of her kidney, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The 400-mile round trip became a financial burden that my parents, Mike and Sandy, were not prepared to assume. During one trip, I was unexpectedly hospitalized. My father needed to get back to Dubuque to work and to care for my brother and sister. Without money to pay for a bus ticket or rental car, he ended up hitch hiking home.

I have always felt such appreciation of all of the sacrifices my parents made to ensure I could receive treatment that would save my life. My father left building his own business to work at John Deere so we would have insurance to cover my medical costs. My mother spent every moment with me in the hospital, and endured all 9 months of a pregnancy during my treatment.

As an adult, I began to realize the desperation my father must have felt as he began taking the first steps on a 200-mile trip while I was in the hospital battling for my life. I decided to leave the corporate world, where I was most recently a Vice President of Marketing for a radioactive pharmaceutical company, to launch Compass to Care. My goal was to ensure no parent would have to do the extreme things my parents did when traveling for their child’s cancer care.

Since our inception in 2010, we have supported over 300 children on 7000+ trips to the hospital for cancer treatment. Collectively, these kids have traveled 1.2 million miles in search of a cancer cure.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Starting any type of business is hard work. I feel starting a charity is even more difficult. You must try to convince potential donors that your mission is not only necessary, but that you have the ability to meet that mission with the funds they donate. You must be committed whole-heartedly to your mission and be willing to do whatever it takes to make the charity a success. You must be able to persevere during the really difficult moments, especially when people tell you no. I have certainly had moments of feeling really excited about what we have accomplished. That is often balanced with days of feeling completely defeated. During those moments, my husband always reminds me to focus on all of the kids we have supported and the difference we have made in their lives.

Please tell us about Compass to Care Childhood Cancer Foundation.
Compass to Care is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Our mission is to help children, whose parents have a financial need, access life-saving cancer treatment. Our beneficiaries are children under the age of 18, who have been diagnosed with cancer, and who are in an active cancer treatment regimen. Their parent(s) must also demonstrate a financial need.

Through the generosity of our supporters, we are able to provide approved recipients with:

• A Cancer Travel Navigator to organize all medically-necessary travel arrangements; and

• Financial assistance to help parents pay for the travel expenses to get their children to the hospital for cancer treatment. These expenses include: airfare, bus fare, car rental, gasoline, lodging, parking fees, taxi fees, tolls, and train fare.

We are proud, everyday, of the impact we are making in the lives of children with cancer and their families. As one can only imagine, having a child with cancer is heart-breaking. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, a family’s normal life can stop quite abruptly as this very difficult journey begins. Financial burdens emerge as a significant concern for many families during their child’s cancer journey. It is quite common for one parent to leave his or her job to become a full-time caregiver for a child with cancer.

Thus, reducing the family’s household income. This happens at a time when medical expenses and other out-of-pocket expenses rise. This leads to the unfortunate reality that many families simply do not have the financial resources to pay for the travel expenses to get their children to cancer treatment. That is where Compass to Care steps in.

We alleviate this burden for these parents, while also ensuring their children can get to the treatment that can save their lives from this terrible disease. We are grateful for the donors who make our work possible, for without them we would not be able to be a place for these families to turn during some of the most difficult days in their lives.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I had to start over, I would try to find someone crazy enough to be my partner. It is a lot of work to build any business from the ground up. I was really fortunate to have such amazing family and friends who provided advice and assistance when I asked. Yet, it would have been nice to have someone, with complementary skills, to work by my side everyday.

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