Where to turn for breast cancer support

Published 8:28 pm Thursday, October 22, 2009

Receiving a cancer diagnosis, while no longer a death sentence, is still a scary proposition.

However, those at the American Cancer Society work every day to make life easier for those who are battling the disease.

Scarlet Thompson is Alabama marketing director for the American Cancer Society. She said, whatever the need of a cancer patient, the Society works to meet it.

“Depending on their need, we can almost meet every one or connect them with someone who can help,” Thompson said.

Help starts for a cancer patient when they call 800-227-2345 — the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week cancer hotline.

“When a cancer patient calls our 1-800 number, they don’t get a recording, they actually get a person who is trained to help them. We call them cancer information specialists. They are trained to deal with all sorts of cancer issues. Depending on the time of day, we have actual cancer nurses who are available to answer questions and help,” Thompson said.

The cancer information specialists also have access to information like databases of current clinical trials going on in the patient’s area.

“We can even help if a cancer patient calls and says they don’t have money for groceries for the week. We can put them in touch with food banks,” she said. At times, the Cancer Society can provide gas cards for those in need of help paying for fuel to travel back and forth for treatments.

Many Chilton County cancer patients can benefit from free lodging, available through the American Cancer Society.

“For cancer patients who live more than 50 miles from the Birmingham area, we have a hotel of sorts, called the Hope Lodge, which is located in Birmingham near the major hospitals. Cancer patients can be referred by their doctor and stay there for free while undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. It’s like a mini-hotel,” Thompson said. “Last year, more than 400 cancer patients and accompanying family members stayed there. Basically, we saved them just in lodging more than a million dollars. We also have a shuttle service that runs out of there to the hospitals. That’s invaluable if you have had to go to the parking decks and park.”

The Cancer Society also offers free wigs, bras and prosthetics to cancer patients.

“Lots of women lose their hair during treatment. As long as they call us, we can provide a wig free of charge. Those can be expensive,” she said.

The American Cancer Society Web site — Cancer.org — also offers connections to support groups, research and other information about cancer, such as medical terms patients will hear from their health care providers.

Thompson is passionate about the help available to Chilton County residents through the American Cancer Society.

“I know we can help. I have had to call the 1-800 number for my mother, who is a cancer patient. She had to go to M.D. Anderson in Houston and they helped her get a flight out there for free,” she said. “It’s not just something I preach about. I have used it personally.”