Patients and caregivers who call CancerCare’s toll-free number often encounter something for which their cancer journey has not prepared them: someone who is willing to listen. And because CancerCare is staffed by 60 professional oncology social workers, the person on the other end of the line not only will listen but can offer real help.
Founded in 1944, CancerCare’s mission is to “provide free, professional support services to anyone affected by cancer: people with cancer, caregivers, children, loved ones, and the bereaved.” These services have evolved over the organization’s 65-year history, says the organization’s executive director, Diane Blum, and are now able to meet a wide variety of needs, including counseling and support groups, education, financial assistance, and practical help. Tuning into individuals’ needs, Diane says, is a unique benefit the organization can provide. “Some people call with a specific need—a wig, help with transportation—and others are very receptive to all our services.” But no matter the need, the “goal is to try to overcome the obstacles people have to getting the best outcome from cancer.”
By engaging patients and conducting standard psychosocial assessments, CancerCare helps patients discover which of the organization’s many services will best meet their needs. “In contrast to a mental health setting,” Diane says, “we really see the burden on us to help people use our services—a lot of people call and have never asked for help before, so we try to help them figure out how we can be of help now or how we might help them in the future.”
For some the need is for counseling to help deal with the many psychosocial issues related to a cancer diagnosis, such as family problems, depression, and managing the many life changes that cancer brings. For others the needs are more practical and, increasingly, have to do with finances. “Fifty-five percent of callers initially define a financial need,” Diane says. “They are uninsured, underinsured, have no discretionary income—they’re losing their homes and they’re losing their jobs.” Last year the organization spent more than $4 million on financial assistance to meet those needs.
The amount of assistance that CancerCare can provide, Diane says, has grown significantly through technological expansion as it has evolved from a regional organization (based in New York City) to a national one. “We still have 10 offices [in the tri-state area], but even people who live across the street use our telephone services; and the phone and online model—which we have evolved into over the past 15 years—continues to grow.” With telephone education workshops, online support groups, and many online publications available for download, the resources available to patients and families continue to expand.
“We can’t cure cancer, and we can’t treat cancer,” Diane says, “but we can help someone get a ride to treatment, apply for Medicaid, tell their child or their boss they have cancer, ask the right questions of their doctor, or find a clinical trial.” In all these ways, CancerCare continues to offer a helping hand to people facing cancer.
For more information call CancerCare at (800) 813-HOPE [800-813-4673] or visit www.cancercare.org.