Even when they are surrounded by friends and family, cancer patients can feel isolated because no one around them understands what they are going through. Likewise, caregivers sometimes need help coping with the changes brought about by a loved one’s cancer. Fortunately, support services such as support groups, educational programs, social events, or one-on-one mentoring from a fellow cancer survivor are available.
Many patients benefit from support services, especially one-on-one mentoring. “Evidenced-based research shows that trained cancer peer mentors can reduce patients’ anxiety and can hasten patients’ recovery,” said Debbie Schultz, a director in the Department of Volunteer Services and Merchandising at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Ms. Schultz is responsible for leading myCancerConnection, a collection of psychosocial support programs for cancer patients.
Choosing a support organization
Although many organizations and Web sites offer various support services, patients and caregivers should be careful to choose trusted, credible organizations. “If you go to a support Web site you’re not familiar with and talk to someone online, you don’t know whether they’ve been trained and whether your information will be kept confidential,” Ms. Schultz said.
When support services are sponsored by large nonprofit organizations such as the American Cancer Society or hospitals such as MD Anderson, patients and caregivers have some assurance that the volunteers have been vetted and trained. Many smaller organizations also provide excellent services, but patients and caregivers should do a little research before contacting these organizations. The Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), GuideStar (www.guidestar.org), Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org), and other watchdog groups can provide information about nonprofit support organizations.
Below are a few nonprofit support organizations and the services they provide.
The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) maintains a nationwide database that can be searched by location and cancer type to find in-person support groups. In addition to supplying information on treatment and financial aid, the organization provides a live chat tool on its Web site and a toll-free help line.
CancerCare (www.cancercare.org) offers educational resources, counseling by social workers, and support groups. Some of these support groups meet in person in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut; others meet online or by teleconference. Some support groups are specific to a certain cancer type, some are for young adults, and some are for caregivers or bereaved family members.
Cancer Support Community (www.cancersupportcommunity.org) offers information on cancer-related topics and online support groups led by licensed counselors. In-person education and support programs are available at more than 150 locations in the United States, Canada, Israel, and Japan.
Caregiver Action Network (www.caregiveraction.org), formerly known as the National Family Caregivers Association, provides online discussion forums and educational resources for caregivers of patients with chronic illnesses or disabilities. The organization’s Caregiver Community Action Network is a group of more than 100 volunteers, all current or former caregivers, who provide one-on-one support or counseling to caregivers.
Cancer180 (www.cancer180.org) hosts support groups, social events, conferences, and educational offerings for young adults with cancer. The MD Anderson–sponsored program is open to all cancer patients in their 20s and 30s.
myCancerConnection (www.mdanderson.org/mycancerconnection) offers a variety of support and education programs for patients treated at MD Anderson and elsewhere. An annual Survivorship Conference is held in September and is open to all cancer survivors. Also available to all cancer patients is one-on-one peer mentoring. myCancerConnection has a cadre of more than 2,300 trained volunteers who are current or former cancer patients. When someone requests a peer mentor, myCancerConnection staff search their database for a mentor who has had a similar diagnosis.
“Being able to talk to someone who’s been there, had the same diagnosis, and taken the same treatments is helpful to patients,” Ms. Schultz said.
Recently, myCancerConnection worked with other peer mentoring organizations, including Cancer Hope Network (www.cancerhopenetwork.org) and Imerman Angels (www.imermanangels.org), to pool their resources into a nationwide peer mentoring group. If one organization cannot find a peer mentor to match a particular patient, it can find one through one of the other organizations. “Together,” Ms. Schultz said, “we can help anybody, anywhere.”
For more information, ask your physician or call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789 . To request a myCancerConnection peer mentor, call 713-792-2553 or 800-345-6324.
OncoLog, August 2017, Volume 62, Issue 8