Cocktails and fabulous artwork — it’s an alluring combination to bring people together on any given night, but this past Thursday at the second annual American Cancer Society’s Martinis & Art fundraiser, it was made all the more compelling for the cause it supports: the society’s Patient Navigator Program here in Maine.

Championed by Susan Miesfeldt, oncologist and medical director of the Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic at the Maine Medical Center Cancer Institute, the patient navigator program is imperative because it provides support to Maine’s most vulnerable cancer patients and their families.

“Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming emotionally, physically and financially,” explains Miesfeldt. “Our inaugural event in 2011 raised over $20,000 and the funds were used to assist patients, their families and caregivers navigate their cancer journey.”

Although the cause is indeed a serious one, the evening offered nothing but jovial conversation, warmth and a festive air. The party, held at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute on Commercial Street in Portland, was split between three levels with guests roaming freely throughout, admiring the original artwork of more than 20 prominent Maine artists. The music of jazz trio Standard Issue kept the tone of the evening just right.

“We are really pleased to host a fun, social event for a good cause,” said Andrew MacLean, chair of the American Cancer Society’s New England Division board of directors. “It’s really a signature fundraising event with the funds specifically going to the Patient Navigator Program to help cancer patients access the resources they need.”

With more than 8,000 cancer survivors in Maine, a state that is both geographically large and economically diverse, the need for such a program is pressing.

“Maine has the dubious distinction in that cancer is the No. 1 killer in our state,” said Susan Clifford, state director of communications for the New England Division of the American Cancer Society. “We have an aging population and we are a rural state. The key issue is access to care.”

“It’s a life-changing event,” explains Cheryl Greany, who is from Portland and is a cancer survivor herself. “I had access to an incredible nurse practitioner, and I had extraordinary care. The emotional ailment is huge…yet we are so lucky here in Maine.”

Heather Ciccarelli, who is the Patient Navigator coordinator at Maine Medical Center, assists 600 to 700 patients a year.

“I connect the dots,” Ciccarelli said, “and start the process for people. Support comes in various ways. The beauty of my job (is) I connect everyone together. Sometimes it’s a matter of providing people with the right words … People need to know what to ask for to get pointed in the right direction.”

Each of the guests were treated to a drawing ticket upon arrival, and as they perused the enviable artwork, they were instructed to select their favorite by placing their ticket in a container next to that piece. Maine artists donating art to this year’s event included: Jac Ouellette, Lindsay Hancock, Holly Ready, Anne Ireland, Mark Marchesi, Ronnie Wilson, Dietland Vander Schaaf, Jeffrey Peacock and Rhonda Pearle. At the end of the evening, names were drawn and lucky ticket holders took home an original work of art.

The evening’s special guests, singer-songwriter and Maine resident Jonathan Edwards and WCSH investigative reporter and “207” host Kathleen Shannon, elevated the excitement levels considerably while awarding the artwork.

“This is a great combination of talents and culmination of energies,” Edwards said, thanking the long list of sponsors who helped to make this evening, billed as a “unique and whimsical fundraiser to benefit Maine cancer patients,” such a wonderful success.

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be reached at: