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Phone Line Supports Caregivers of Children

CancerWise - March 2008

Not many people can understand what it's like to be a parent of a child with cancer unless they've been there. That's the premise on which M. D. Anderson founded the Pediatric Caregiver Telephone Support Network.

Answering questions about the program is Marisa Mir, a program coordinator for Anderson Network, M. D. Anderson’s patient and caregiver support organization that started the new support phone line.

Why was the support line established?

Our goal is to help meet the emotional support needs of people caring for children with cancer. The motto of the Anderson Network is "patient to patient, friend to friend" because the group knows the best help sometimes comes from someone who has been there.

Who can use the support line?

Anyone caring for a child with cancer, regardless of where the child is being treated, is welcome to call the support line.

How does it work?

When a caregiver of a pediatric cancer patient calls Anderson Network, he or she is matched to a telephone volunteer according to diagnosis, treatment and experience. Volunteers contact the caller within 48 hours at a mutually acceptable time.

If we do not have a volunteer match for a caller, we may refer them to other pediatric caregiver resources.

Who do I call and what are the hours?

The Anderson Network office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday. However, telephone support volunteers are available almost any time to return caregivers' calls.

Can volunteers answer phone calls from their homes?

No. But they can return calls to caregivers from their homes.

Calls come in to the Anderson Network office, not the volunteers' homes, so that staff members can document information and match caregivers with volunteers.

What kind of questions can volunteers answer?

Volunteers share their personal experiences and how they coped with the diagnosis, treatment and emotions of their child’s cancer. However, they cannot answer medical questions or provide medical advice, and they cannot suggest the patient be treated at M. D. Anderson or any other medical facility.

Common questions include:

  • Treatment side effects
  • Support groups
  • Resources for financial assistance
  • Respite care

How can people become volunteers?

Any person who is or has been a caregiver of a child with cancer or is an adult survivor of childhood cancer is welcome to apply.

The first step is to call the Anderson Network at 800-345-6324 or 713-792-2553 (in the Houston area). You also can sign up online. An Anderson Network member interviews each prospective volunteer.

The interviews are conducted to:

  • Ensure the volunteer is an appropriate fit
  • Give insight into what it's like to be a support line volunteer
  • Explain possible questions and how to answer them

Those who become telephone support line volunteers receive welcome packets with guidelines and tips for telephone support.

As the program grows, the goal is to provide an annual telephone-training workshop to update volunteers on policies, procedures and new resources to which they can refer callers.

How much time are volunteers asked to commit?

Volunteers may make as many as one call a month or as few as one a year. It depends on the types of calls and requests the network receives.

How can caregivers who need support contact the network?

Caregivers who would like to receive support can call the Pediatric Caregiver Telephone Support Network at 800-345-6324 (toll free) or 713-792-2553 (in the Houston area). They also can submit an online contact form.

M. D. Anderson resources:

  • Pediatric Caregiver Telephone Support Network
  • Anderson Network
  • Children's Cancer Hospital

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center