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Support Can Be Just a Phone Call Away

By Mary Damiano

(Page 2 of 3)

Masi believes that attending caregiver support groups made him a better caregiver to Jennifer and Rachel. “If you’re a parent of a child with cancer, or you’re a spouse of a husband or wife with cancer, there’s a lot of things that you can’t say or do or ways you can’t behave at home,” he says. “You don’t want to make them feel bad. You want to show that you’re strong and you’re okay. But when you go to a group where everybody’s feeling the same feelings and have the same experiences, you talk about the things you can’t talk about at home.”

While support groups are helpful, another option is the one-on-one support provided by Cancer Hope Network. Founded in 1981, the New Jersey-based organization matches people dealing with cancer with volunteers who have had a similar cancer experience. Cancer Hope Network has about 325 volunteers, about 10 percent of which are family members of people who have had cancer. The other 90 percent are cancer survivors. All volunteers are over 18 and have been cancer-free at least one year. 

Joe Wotowicz, Director of Outreach for Cancer Hope Network, points out several differences between a support group and the one-on-one phone support his organization offers. “When you go into a support group, they have 12 people in the group and maybe none of them would have your particular exact type of cancer,” Wotowicz says. “What we try to do is match them up. If someone has a spouse with breast cancer, we match them up with someone with a spouse with breast cancer. It’s fairly specific.”

Wotowicz points out that often people are reluctant to talk in groups and enjoy the privacy of the phone. “The anonymity of it is actually one of the biggest factors,” he says. “People are very comfortable sharing stuff over the phone, sometimes a lot more so than in a support group. People can talk to people on the phone and crash and burn, they don’t have to worry about seeing someone the next day at the supermarket or at church.”

Another unique aspect of Cancer Hope Network is that instead of waiting for the next support group, callers can get support on demand and talk to someone any time. Also, there are times when people needing support, because perhaps of bad weather or a lack of transportation, cannot get out to a group. Indeed, such a program seems tailor-made for caregivers who cannot always leave the house. Volunteers with Cancer Hope Network undergo a nine-hour training program at the organization’s headquarters in Chester, New Jersey. Wotowicz says the program covers a wide range of topics, including the organization’s policies on what volunteers can and cannot say. 

“Our mission is to provide emotional support and encouragement,” Wotowicz says. “We don’t make any types of recommendations, about treatments or physicians or facilities. That’s part of the training impressed upon these folks. They can share their own personal experiences, but they can’t make recommendations. Anyone wanting to use Cancer Hope Network’s service fills out an information sheet about their particular experience, including the type of cancer they’re dealing with, the stage of the disease and treatment, as well as information on gender, age group and family situation. This information is used to find a volunteer who is as close a match as possible. The volunteer will call the person and talk. Calls always go through Cancer Hope Network and people can talk to the same person if they wish.


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