Employee Voices

Building a Community for Cancer Support

Driven by her personal experience with cancer, Marcia Erhardt helps lead the McKesson Cause Network to help other employees affected by the disease.

Read time: 4 minutes

Marcia Erhardt knows all too well what it’s like to be affected by cancer. Three years ago, her husband Mark was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer that forms in plasma cells, crowding out healthy blood cells and causing, among other symptoms, acute bone pain.

It was a diagnosis that came out of the blue. Other than the usual colds or seasonal bugs, Mark had never been sick in his life.

“It was super shocking to receive that news, but also very overwhelming,” Marcia says. “Suddenly, our lifestyle changed completely.”

Marcia, a senior manager in McKesson’s Rx Sales Support in Richmond, Va., says the first year and a half following her husband’s diagnosis was a nightmare. He spent all of those 18 months undergoing chemotherapy before finally achieving remission earlier this year. 

Looking back, Marcia admits there are times she’s unsure how they managed through, but she credits family – their two grown children, her sister and her 91-year-old mother – with helping them through the worst days. She knows that in times like these, a strong sense of community is everything.

That’s why she felt compelled to help launch McKesson’s Cause Network. An initiative first proposed by McKesson CEO Brian Tyler, the Cause Network is an employee network dedicated to helping those affected by cancer – whether they face diagnoses themselves or are taking care of family members – by offering valuable support when it’s most needed.

The Cause Network website serves as a repository of information for McKesson employees. It features resources suggested by team members who have been through their own cancer journeys, including recommendations for oncologists, virtual volunteer opportunities and cancer organizations.

Having this wealth of resources right at her fingertips three years ago would have been game-changing, Marcia says, because it could have significantly eased many of the early obstacles she and her husband faced as a new caregiver and a new cancer patient, respectively.

“One of the biggest challenges when my husband was diagnosed was being totally overwhelmed by a sea of information, much of which you had to sort through on your own,” she explains. “You’re trying to figure out how to get educated and locate critical resources, and you don’t know where to start.”

Earlier this spring, Marcia detailed this experience with James Frison, senior director of social impact and president of the McKesson Foundation. It turned out to be a serendipitous conversation, as Frison informed her that McKesson was in the midst of gathering personal experiences from other employees to determine what kinds of tools and resources resonate most with those impacted by cancer.

Shortly thereafter, the McKesson Foundation sent a company-wide email announcing the newly established McKesson Cause Network. The email also invited employees interested in contributing to join the network’s start-up team.

Marcia jumped at the opportunity.

Now serving as vice chair of the Cause Network steering committee on behalf of McKesson’s Medical-Surgical business, Marcia is focused on program development, including creating awareness of the group to grow its membership, and expanding their website’s resources and engagement opportunities, such as live video events with guest speakers from cancer organizations.

While it’s still early days, Marcia is encouraged by the highly positive feedback the Cause Network has received to date. Some members have told her they’ve found the network so beneficial that they regularly share resources and invitations to webinars provided by the network with family and friends outside McKesson.

“McKesson established this network because it cares deeply about helping people through one of the biggest challenges they’ll ever face,” she says. “That’s a gift that’s going to keep giving.”

And with COVID-19 preventing many high-risk patients from physically being with their families, friends and members of their local cancer support groups this year, Marcia adds that this new virtual community couldn’t have come at a better time.

Beyond equipping members with valuable cancer-related resources, the Cause Network provides a way for those living this shared experience with cancer to simply be there for one another. Sometimes it’s in the form of sharing personal advice. Other times, it’s receiving much-needed words of encouragement during the hardest days.

“Having a solid support system in place is a critical part of anyone’s fight against cancer,” she says. “Even though we can’t connect face-to-face right now, just knowing you’re not alone – and that others in this group genuinely want to help you – makes a world of difference.”

Marcia says she’s embraced the opportunity to do her part in this virtual community by sharing lessons learned from her husband’s cancer journey.

One of the biggest lessons? Live each day in the moment.

“Now that Mark is in remission, we have a lot more good days, but we still have plenty that aren’t, so planning for events in the future can sometimes be difficult,” she says. “So instead, we just say, ‘OK, here’s today. Let’s enjoy it.’”

And that, especially in challenging times, is an important lesson for everyone.

Originally published December 15, 2020.