By: Anastasia Marchese
Sarah Miretti Cassidy is the Director of External Affairs with Cancer Hope Network, a 501(3)(C) Nonprofit located in Chester. She joined the Cancer Hope Network four years ago, but the organization has been serving cancer patients for over 30 years.
It was founded in 1981 by Diane Byrnes-Paul. She worked as an oncology nurse. When her uncle underwent treatment for cancer, he told her that it would have been so helpful to have spoken with someone who had gone through that treatment beforehand. These words echoed the sentiments of many of the patients that she worked with professionally, and she was inspired to set up a way to connect cancer patients with cancer survivors who had undergone similar treatments. The only people who could really give cancer patients a window into the treatment process and hope for the future were cancer patients who had lived through that type of cancer with its maze of treatments and the inevitable side effects that come along with them.
This mission became the organization that today has ¨400-500 volunteers who have survived more than 80 types of cancer and who speak 15 different languages,¨ said Cassidy, so that most any cancer patient can ¨talk to somebody who’s been there. We match by cancer type and cancer treatment options.¨
It doesn’t stop there though. Cassidy says that they try to match up as many similarities as possible, including things that are important in a patient’s life, similar life situations and even personalities. If a cancer patient is a single mom, or a teacher of young children or has children at home with special needs, talking with another cancer patient who navigated the unique situations that arise in these particular scenarios can be so therapeutic.
¨The rest of your life does not stop when you are going through cancer,¨ said Cassidy. ¨Support visits often happen over the phone. That way you are able to talk at a time and a place that is convenient for you. You can talk to your matched volunteer once or more than once.¨
It is really about meeting the participant where they are at and providing them with the ear of someone who can relate and can give them hope throughout the process of treatment.
¨Hope can mean a lot of different thing. It can mean a long life. It can mean the life you have. The service is always free and is always confidential. In about one business day someone will call you back from the programs team.” There were over 2000 support visits last year.
Cancer Hope Network does not provide medical advice but can provide an emotional sounding board with someone who has been there. They provide support for patients in any stage of cancer treatment, from early diagnosis through survivorship. There is also support for caregivers of cancer patients and they are matched up with caregivers who also share similar life situations and cancer patient support scenarios.
Cassidy vividly remembers a client that CHN matched up a few years ago because her feedback captured a bit of what makes their work successful. ¨She wasn’t warm and fuzzy, and neither am I.”
Being able to match people up based on cancer types and treatment options is helpful, but when their life situations and personalities also mesh, it can be a synergistic combination that really helps the client see through the haze of cancer and have hope for the future. The Cancer Care Network can be contacted through their website www.cancerhopenetwork.org or at 877-HOPENET