Cancer Support Community Focuses on Treating the Whole Patient with New Initiatives


One advocacy organization looks beyond just the medical needs of patients to offer support to the "whole patient."

When it comes to living with cancer, the focus of care is often on physical treatment and medical needs. But the Cancer Support Community (CSC) is one of many advocacy organizations that shines a light on the psychosocial aspects of treatment that may fall to the wayside. And this year, the CSC is working on a host of new projects and adding support services for patients and their families across the country.

In an interview with CURE, Elizabeth Franklin, executive director of the Cancer Policy Institute at the Cancer Support Community, spoke a bit about what kind of services the organization offers and what they are looking forward to in the near future.

CURE: Can you briefly tell us about the Cancer Support Community and how it helps patients with cancer?

Franklin: The Cancer Support Community is over 35 years old. It was a merger of the Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club, with 170 locations across the country where patients are receiving services. When they leave the hospital or the clinic, they are walking through our doors and talking to social workers, going to support groups, doing yoga, taking cooking classes, learning about nutrition; everything that they need to make sure that they are handling cancer the best way possible. They are not just attending to their physical or medical needs, but they have their whole host of psychosocial needs and social support.

We know from the evidence that it takes a lot more than just the medical; it takes a full suite of services to make sure that patients (with cancer) and their families have what they need. So, we have three legs to the stool of Cancer Support Community, and that’s the first: direct services, which is what we were founded on.

The second is our Research and Training Institute, and that’s where we’re conducting leading psychosocial research with cancer patients, survivors and caregivers to really find out what they care about. We ask them what they want us to learn and then we conduct research on that.

And finally, policy and advocacy. I run the Cancer Policy Institute, and we are working at federal and state levels to help patients access high quality, affordable, timely healthcare.

So, with all three of those things, we really feel like we are doing our best to attend to full-patient needs.

Are there any new programs or initiatives that you want patients to know about?

We’ve been working on a program in Arizona with the Navajo Nation. Many people don’t know that there are no cancer treatment facilities on any American Indian reservation in the United States. It’s outside the scope of the Indian Health Service. So, when we found this out, we wanted to work with the Navajo nation to change that.

And after working with partners and raising money, the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation just launched, making it the first treatment facility on any Indian Reservation in the country. They are providing chemotherapy to patients now, to folks who previously had to travel 200 or 300 miles across the reservation to get treatment, who can now get it on the reservation. They can have culturally-appropriate services, in their language.

We’ve worked with a social worker to bring Cancer Support Community services to the reservation, as well. So not only are they receiving the medical services, but now they’re also receiving psychosocial services to make sure that, for the first time ever, we’re able to attend to their needs and it’s really exciting. Dr. Jill Biden joined us out there in Arizona to witness the unveiling of the cancer center, and we hope that this will be a model for other cancer treatment facilities on Indian reservations. So that’s one thing that we have!

Is there anything else in the works?

We’ve also just launched a partnership with Airbnb. We know that many patients have to travel long distances for cancer treatment. So, Airbnb has given us a grant to provide free Airbnb housing services to cancer patients. They can call our help line, and as long as they hit some of the eligibility criteria, they are provided with free Airbnb services for a certain amount of time. We’re thrilled. They’ve been a wonderful partner to work with and have said that when this grant runs out, let’s think about what’s next.

We look forward to working with other companies as well, because patients need lodging, but they also need transportation and food and a host of other things so that they can just focus on treating their cancer.

We’re excited about looking forward, in terms of making sure that it’s about more than just treatment. There are many things that patients are dealing with besides just attending to their medical care. We’re constantly looking at the whole patient and making sure they have what they need.

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