Deary Man Keeping Light A Candle Program Fires Burning
Thursday is “volunteer day” for Jim Matuska.
Each week, Matuska makes his way to the Gritman Foundation’s second-floor Cancer Resource Center and reaches out to patients going through cancer treatment to see if there are services they might need.
The Deary man knows just how important those phone calls can be. Three years ago, Matuska was trying to diagnose a rare form of liposarcoma, traveling between Lewiston and Spokane for tests and eventually a surgery to remove a tumor from his leg. The operation left him homebound for six months. Matuska was given a 50% chance of ever walking again.
Support through the Gritman Foundation’s Light A Candle program—gasoline gift cards he was able to use when friends and family gave him lifts to his many appointments—proved more than valuable during his treatment.
Now, Matuska wants to ensure others have those same resources that helped him in his time of need.
“I’m trying to create something that can do the most good for the people that really need it,” he said.
Light A Candle provides any number of services to patients throughout the region who may be going through cancer care. Gift cards for groceries and gasoline are one aspect, as are literature and resources for lodging and transportation, all funded through generous donations to the Gritman Foundation.
Matuska is also able to refer patients to masseuses and connect them with hairpieces.
“I essentially educate the patient on what we have available here,” he said. “And then I try to find what their needs are. And if their needs are over and above what we have here, I try to find resources that are appropriate.”
A physician or social worker has to refer each patient to Light A Candle, though doctors he’s spoken with are eager to refer into the program.
On many days, Matuska tries to be a sounding board—and a compassionate ear—to the people he communicates with, helping assess what each person might need based on their situation.
“I’ve had incredible openness with the patients I’ve talked to,” he said.
For one recent contact, that meant connecting a woman visiting her husband with lodging options in Spokane. For others, it has been arranging for an Uber driver to pick up a family member at the end of a treatment day.
“I’m usually able to contact five people in a three-hour period,” he said. “Most of them, we are able to give them some sort of help or find out what they’re running into.”
No matter the patient’s situation, he tries to be a resource. The Cancer Resource Room is filled with flyers and other literature for patients who have been diagnosed with cancer, as well as chairs and a conference table to hold support groups or small meetings. While Matuska volunteers by making phone calls because of pandemic restrictions, he hopes to soon welcome people back to the resource room for in-person discussions.
The 71-year-old retired forester sees the volunteer work as his way to pay it forward to the people who have been so helpful to him. That’s what volunteer day is all about—a successful shift at Gritman before serving patients each Thursday evening as a Certified Medical Assistant at the Snake River Community Clinic in Lewiston.
Three years on, Matuska still walks with a bit of a limp from the titanium rod surgeons installed. But he is able to climb a ladder to prune his orchard trees or shovel snow off the roof. And he makes the trip every Thursday to help his appointed rounds as part of volunteer day.
“My mindset is that if everybody did a little bit there would be so many more people helped,” he said. “When you’re feeling better or you’re doing better, go help somebody else, pass it on.”
Learn more about the Light a Candle Foundation and make a donation at gritman.org/foundation.