A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. Patients must find ways to cope emotionally with the new illness while life continues around them: bills must be paid, homes maintained, and families cared for.
Patients often struggle with a loss of income or benefits due to taking time off from work. Others must travel long distances for treatment, and are now faced with the additional expense of paying for gas. Not to mention that some medications can be costly.
However, help is out there for some of the emotional, physical and financial challenges that patients face.
What services are available locally?
Start with your local cancer facility. Ask your oncologist about the resources your facility offers, and find out if your facility has a patient navigator or a social worker who specializes in working with cancer patients.
A patient navigator is trained to help patients identify resources specific to their illness and help patients and families gain access to these resources. An oncology social worker helps locate and gain access to resources, but they are also trained to help patients cope with the emotional aspects of treatment.
Additionally, many local organizations can help. The Hope Lodge provides free lodging for patients who are actively in treatment. Friend for Life is a Kentucky-based organization which allows patients to speak with a survivor who shared their diagnosis. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society offers education and financial support to patients.
The United Way also offers their "211" program. Patients can dial 211 to learn about community resources that.
What can I expect from a support group?
At University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center, our support groups encompass all diagnoses. We have a support groups for patients who are newly diagnosed, patients who are in treatment, and survivors. We also have a group for young adult cancer patients and survivors, as well as a group for head and neck cancer patients.
The groups are designed to be part education and part support. During each meeting, the support group leader facilitates a discussion on a specific topic related to cancer, and our patients also share their individual experiences and serve as a source of strength for one another.
We often hear that patients are relieved to know there are others like them who experience the same concerns, issues or problems.
Patients can find a full listing of local support groups by contacting the American Cancer Society (Cancer.org).
Are there services available for caregivers?
A good oncology social worker recognizes the importance of caring for caregivers and often extends emotional support to them as well. Friend for Life and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's First Connection Program, (LLS.org), allows caregivers to reach out and gain support from others who had a loved one go through treatment. Trained volunteers from these organizations can be a good source of support for caregivers.
Joan Scales is the supervisor for Psych-Oncology Services at the UK Markey Cancer Center.