As co-chairs of Cirque El Rio, Anthony and Emily Schaefer have a vision that extends to the Big Top and beyond.
While spearheading the glamorous, Vegas-worthy gala, the couple hope to transform the lives of local patients impacted by cancer and their families.
“Anthony always says that he wants to bring people ‘hope for another day, another memory, another opportunity, another laugh and just a bit more time,’” Emily said.
Cirque El Rio will accomplish those goals with help to establish El Rio Health’s new Cancer Treatment Fund to help provide treatment for El Rio qualified patients.
“For community members that have limited or no health care coverage, that kind of care is nonexistent. We are creating hope for those with a cancer diagnosis instead of abandoning them to a grim prognosis. Everyone deserves a shot,” said Anthony, 35, who has a personal stake in the mission.
The Tucson native lost his father to glioblastoma in 2004.
“My dad had multiple brain surgeries and multiple rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. It is really tough to see your idol go through that and it has given me a different perspective on things: I live in his honor and do anything possible to ensure that other folks don’t have to deal with the same outcome,” Anthony said.
Emily, 34, is inspired by her husband’s attitude, El Rio’s homegrown roots and her own experiences as a nurse at Banner-University Medical Center Tucson.
“As a nurse, I am the first line of comfort when a patient receives a new diagnosis of colon or pancreatic cancer in the gastroenterology lab. My heart is all-in for anyone with a cancer diagnosis,” she said.
The El Rio Foundation shares that philosophy: It has helped fund initiatives pertaining to different types of cancers including colon, pancreatic, breast, cervical, skin cancer and more. In fact, a portion of proceeds from the 2018 gala helped purchase a second mammography machine for El Rio Health; funds also helped to establish a breast and cervical cancer treatment fund for El Rio patients.
The community response to the Breast and Cervical Treatment Fund ignited interest in a more general Cancer Treatment Fund.
“Fairly quickly we had emails from colleagues at El Rio Health about patients with other types of cancer that had no insurance. When you are providing primary health care to one out of every 10 patients in Tucson, there are lots of needs. At any given time, 10 to 15% of our patient base have no health insurance; that translates into about 13,000 to 15,000 patients without coverage,” said Brenda Goldsmith, executive director of the El Rio Health Foundation.
The Cancer Treatment Funds can also help cover high deductibles for low-income patients who may be unable to pay up-front costs necessary to begin treatments.
Goldsmith said the El Rio eligibility department reviews each case and coordinates with a network of community health partners and local, state and federal resources to facilitate the most cost-effective, high-quality care for patients in need.
Ultimately, Anthony believes the commitment of volunteers and donors who support El Rio Health Center — and the nonprofit’s continued growth and success — are direct results of the mindset behind the medicine.
“El Rio creates a family environment and treats all their patients with love and respect. Once you see people receiving this level of care, you can’t help but be all-in. Proper health care is a basic human right,” said Anthony, who became heavily engaged with the El Rio Foundation seven years ago and became its youngest board member in May 2018.
The duo are harnessing their youth and enthusiasm for Cirque El Rio.
Relying on the mantra that “you can never give enough and everything that you give circles around,” they hope to net $200,000 at the fundraiser.