I will forever remember the phone call.
The stranger on the other end of the telephone line saying, “I have some bad news.”
The news was that I had invasive ductile cancer. Whatever that meant, I thought to myself, as I sat listening, numb and in a daze.
Two tumors. One quite large. Soon I would be hearing from a surgeon to discuss my options, which would most likely include some combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, she said. The woman mentioned some statistics. I tried to write things down. It was a lot to digest, particularly as a single mom with a new baby.
As I hung up the phone, I suddenly felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. How would I raise my son, pay my bills, keep food on the table and fight for my life – all on my own?
The good news is that it’s been four years (and counting) since that day and that phone call. And the reality is that few people make it through any sort of battle with cancer entirely on their own, as I would learn over and over again during my treatment.
A fiercely independent person, receiving assistance of any kind from strangers was something I had always rejected in life — and the same held true when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
However, there were several turning points during my journey with the disease, and one that opened my mind tremendously involved a telephone conversation with the executive director of a national nonprofit developed specifically to assist women fighting cancer.
As I expressed my reservations, the executive director stopped me in my tracks and said bluntly, but compassionately: “Mia, letting others help you is a blessing for them. And when you are better, you will pass on the favor and help others and you will understand what I mean.”
Were it not for the assistance I received all along the way, from friends, family members, and yes, from strangers, I likely would not be here today.
I was shocked as I grew to learn just how many organizations exist to help individuals who have cancer. It can almost be overwhelming to sort through them all.
There are organizations that provide assistance buying food, paying bills, purchasing wigs when chemotherapy robs you of your hair, and some of the same groups even make sure there are presents under the Christmas tree when the battle against cancer not only strips you of every last ounce of energy, but drains your financial resources as well. Christmas came every year for three years at my house for my son and me while I made my way through nearly a dozen surgical procedures, eight weeks of radiation, and an emergency trip to the Intensive Care Unit with a life-threatening case of sepsis and a staff infection.
On some days now, it can almost seem like a distant nightmare, one I often wish I could forget entirely. But the reality is that once you’ve experienced cancer, it’s never far from your mind, not even for a moment. It forever changes you, profoundly impacting how you view life, your loved ones, and your priorities. For the remainder of your life, it is part of the new you, the person who faced a life ending disease and survived and is here to pass on the lessons learned.
So as that executive director said years ago, it’s time to pass on the favor and share what I learned. Here are some of the organizations around the country that provide assistance to cancer patients and their families. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a starting point for those in search of help and more information.
Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, only about 3,000 Americans are diagnosed each year. As a result, specialists are few and finding effective treatment typically means traveling far from home and lengthy stays to recover from surgical procedures, chemo and radiation.
To help with expenses, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation offers travel grants to those who qualify. The foundation also has extensive knowledge and relationships with the top mesothelioma doctors and centers throughout the U.S. and internationally and can help connect you with clinical trials that may be beneficial.
The Gift of Hope
The Gift of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing financial support to low-income women with breast cancer during their course of treatment.
Many women often take a leave of absence from work while undergoing treatment, and some have little or no other income during that time. The Gift of Hope believes that no woman should have to worry about how her bills are going to be paid and should be free to concentrate on getting well. With that in mind, the organization helps cancer patients pay monthly bills such as electric, gas, phone, and even groceries.
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Pancreatic cancer surpassed breast cancer in 2016 becoming the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. And it is expected to become the second (surpassing colorectal cancer) by 2020.
Though its Patient Central program, PanCAN offers free, personalized resources to patients fighting the disease – including specialist information, clinical trials, financial assistance programs, personalized medicine, and information regarding diet and nutrition.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
The world’s largest voluntary agency dedicated to fighting blood cancers, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society provides a variety of support to those dealing with leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma. LLS will connect patients with clinical trials, and provide financial support including co-pay assistance for prescription drugs and health insurance premiums and funding for travel-related expenses such as airfare and lodging.
LLS also operates a peer-to-peer support program to help patients and caregivers cope with the disease by matching them with volunteers who have also been impacted by a blood cancer.
A nonprofit serving Connecticut and New York’s Hudson Valley, Ann’s Place offers professional counseling, support groups and even wellness activities, all at no charge. Among the wellness programs available are yoga, Tai Chi, nutrition programs, horticulture therapy, Reiki, and creative arts such as writing, dance and music.
Created by a cervical cancer survivor, the Dandelion Foundation supports women who are dealing with gynecologic cancer by “leveraging the power of two,” says founder Dawnia Bell.
After being diagnosed in 2017, Bell found few resources and non-profits dedicated to gynecologic cancer. The Dandelion Foundation matches newly diagnosed women with a survivor mentor who can walk with them from the time a diagnosis is suspected through treatment, and into survivorship.
The organization also provides vouchers and Target gift cards for qualified participants to help cover prescription costs or help meet insurance deductibles, as well as post operative, chemotherapy and radiation treatment-related expenses.
The Red Devils
More than 4,000 families in Maryland deal with cancer each year, according to The Red Devils, a Baltimore-based non-profit whose mission is to fund services that improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients and their families.
Since 2002, The Red Devils has invested nearly $3 million in that effort, supporting more than than 5,500 breast cancer families. The Red Devils assists with treatment transportation including taxi vouchers, gasoline cards, bridge tolls, metro passes and sedan and van services.
It also provides support with meals, groceries, house cleaning, utilities, rent and mortgage expenses, and even childcare and respite care. There is also assistance available for such things as medical co-payments and insurance premiums and medical equipment and prostheses.
A leading national organization, CancerCare provides free, professional support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical and financial challenges of cancer.
CancerCare services include counseling and support groups (over the phone, online and in-person), educational workshops, publications, and financial and co-payment assistance.
The American Cancer Society
Likely one of the most well-known names in the world of cancer, the American Cancer Society provides a wealth of assistance and resources, including information about treatment options, advice regarding coping with side effects, or guidance with health insurance.
In addition, the organization provides assistance with transportation to and from treatment for those who do not have a ride or are unable to drive themselves. And because treatment can also often involve traveling away from home, which is an additional financial burden on patients and their caregivers, the American Cancer Society offers a lodging program as well.
United Cancer Support Foundation
A non-profit dedicated to the prevention and eradication of all types of cancer, the United Cancer Support Foundation also offers “Just 4 U” support packages for cancer patients and free recliners for those in East Tennessee.
Support packages are designed to reduce patient stress both physically and emotionally with gifts that provide relaxation and distraction. The recliner program, meanwhile, is available to patients who are located in the same region as the organization’s Knoxville, Tenn., offices.
An organization famously started by cyclist Lance Armstrong, LIVESTRONG provides assistance to cancer patients through its Navigation program, which offers help with managing medical expenses and insurance challenges, fertility preservation, and understanding treatment programs, as well as accessing emotional support.
Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition
As the name implies, this is a group of organizations that have joined forces to help cancer patients by limiting the financial challenges they face during treatment. The website however, does not respond to individual requests for financial assistance, but rather provides a database where patients can find out if assistance is available for their specific need.
This Is Living With Cancer
Knowing when and how to help a cancer patient can be one of the most significant challenges for friends or loved ones of those fighting the disease. This Is Living With Cancer was designed to address that very issue. A free app, This Is Living With Cancer was designed to help patients to connect with loved ones and friends and to allow patients to ask for help when needed, as well as improve communication with doctors.
App features such as My Circle allow for creating group communication with the people who matter most. Through the Requests feature, patients can ask for support with such things as food, transportation, childcare, housework, and more.
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