The American Cancer Society “The Official Sponsor of Birthdays”

Christina Bach, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C
Christina Bach, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C

Welcome back to Christina’s Resource Round-Up, where this week I’ll be highlighting the American Cancer Society (ACS). I’ve been referring patients, families, friends and colleagues to the ACS for years. Honestly I learn something new everyday about the services this organization provides, as well as the power it yields to influence cancer care, prevention, treatment and research in the United States.

The ACS is the most comprehensive American organization for cancer care, control, service and advocacy. The ACS does so many incredible things… I bet you aren’t even aware of half of them! So, let’s dive in. First, lets start with a little history lesson.

The ACS was founded as the “American Society for the Control of Cancer” (ASCC) in 1913 by a group of physicians and businessmen in Ney York City. Cancer, at that time, was a fairly taboo subject. There were no medical treatments available to cure cancer, and surgical options were limited at best. The best one could hope for was symptom management and pain control. But these folks who founded the ACS seemed to be on to something; they knew that cancer rates were going to continue to increase AND that action was needed to help figure out why cancer happens, how to treat it and how to help patients who already had it. In combination with the ASCC, the Women’s Field Army was also founded and was hitting the streets, raising money and educating the public about cancer. In fact, their sole purpose was to “wage a war on cancer.” These two groups continued their action plan of education and advocacy through two World Wars and the Depression. But times were tough-it’s easy to imagine that curing this taboo disease was not necessarily a priority for most Americans.

After World War II, the organization restructured into what we know it to be today, the American Cancer Society. The ACS has grown into the largest voluntary health organization in the United States and has grown to include global health programs in concert with the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

The mission statement of the ACS is to “eliminate cancer as a major health problem” by focusing on prevention, saving lives and diminishing suffering through research, education, advocacy and service. The ACS is run by a national home office and divided into 12 (geographic) divisions in the US/Puerto Rico. There are over 900 local ACS offices nationwide. No, the ACS isn’t PHYSICALLY everywhere, but their 800-ACS-2345 contact number is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and CAN link callers with local cancer resources all over the country. This one number is all you need to connect with all of the services ACS has to offer.

What are these services?

ACS breaks down their service areas into four areas: “Stay Well, Get Well, Find Cures and Fight Back.”

Stay well focuses on cancer prevention and early detection through community health and educational initiatives, tobacco education and cessation programs and the proposal and implementation of nutrition, activity and healthy living guidelines to influence behavior changes that will help prevent future cancer diagnoses.

Get wellconcentrates on patient services, disease and treatment specific educational materials, clinical trials matching service and the management and allocation of local resources.

This category is the bread and butter of my relationship with the ACS. This organization is top notch when it comes to offering state of the art, up to date information about a specific type of cancer, chemotherapy, radiation or surgical treatment as well as programs that help you and your family and circle of caregivers cope with your cancer diagnosis.

For example, the “I Can Cope” program is a series of cancer education classes sponsored by the ACS. I recently became an I Can Cope facilitator and the information the ACS has included in this series is extremely valuable in your fight against cancer. The program is offered in various ways depending on the facilitator. For example, two or three modules may be offered together in a 3 hour workshop, or one module may be presented over a breakfast talk and several modules may be presented in an entire day. The modules are for patients and caregivers who are hungry for more information about their diagnosis, treatment, side effects, symptoms and coping. It also gives attendees the opportunity to ask questions to professionals who are working everyday to help people GET WELL. Some of the modules include “Learning about Cancer,” ” Understanding Cancer Treatments,” “Keeping Well in Body and Mind,””Managing Cancer Related Fatigue,”” Taking Charge of Money Matters “and “Nutrition During Cancer Treatment.”

Another great ACS program is “Look Good, Feel Better.” This program is for women who are concerned about changes in their appearance that they may experience as a result of their cancer diagnosis and treatment. During these sessions, licensed cosmetologists volunteer their time and knowledge to educate patients about skin care, managing hair loss and applying makeup. Addressing concerns about changes in appearance is extremely important in adjusting to life WITH cancer. Hair loss can be a constant reminder of the stark reality of cancer. Learning how to wear a wig fashionably or to wear a turban or scarf can make a world of difference and may impact a cancer patient’s mood and coping ability.

The ACS also focuses a special educational and supportive service program on men coping with prostate cancer called “Man to Man.” This program is community based and provides a wide range of services including one to one peer matching (talking to another person who is going through prostate cancer), support groups and targeting of educational programs to specific high risk populations. The ACS also publishes Man to Man News three times a year for up to date information on disease prevention, early detection, treatment and quality of life.

Road to Recovery

One of the most challenging areas I am faced with as a social worker in an outpatient oncology clinic and infusion center is getting people here for their appointments and treatments and then back home again. Even in a large city with an excellent public transportation system, many patients cannot access this system due to physical limitations. This is where Road to Recovery comes in. Road to Recovery matches volunteer drivers with cancer patients. These drivers, who have received training and have documented good driving records, provide door to door transportation for the cancer patient to their treatment center. The only limit to this program is the number of drivers available and many ACS local offices are working hard to recruit more volunteers to help with this endeavor. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer driver, contact the ACS at 800-ACS-2345.

Hope Lodge

Recognizing that cancer patients often travel many miles for treatment, the ACS offers 31 Hope Lodge facilities across the United States. Hope Lodge provides free, temporary housing to patients and their caregivers who travel a distance (at least 40 miles or a one hour drive) to access their cancer care. One of my patients described The AstraZeneca Hope Lodge of Philadelphia as the “Taj Mahal” of places to stay. I must admit, I was in awe when I visited for a tour. The Lodge is a home away from home.

Patients and their caregivers have their own rooms with private baths. The facilities have handicapped accessible rooms that meet ADA requirements. Each floor boasts a common area with TV and fireplace and big comfy chairs and couches to help ease away the stress of treatment. There are also meal preparation and storage areas, a dining room and laundry facilities. There is a stocked library which also houses games, puzzles and a DVD collection.

Most importantly, the Hope Lodge offers a safe environment and community where you can connect with others who are coping with cancer and give and receive support and encouragement from each other. Some Hope Lodge facilities also offer special programs like yoga, reiki, pet therapy, and music therapy. They also provide on site “Look Good Feel Better” sessions.

The ACS Clinical Trials Matching Service

The Clinical Trials Matching Service provided by the ACS links patients who are interested in enrolling in clinical trials with studies they may be eligible both locally and nationwide. It is an extremely user friendly resource that is available both online and by phone. The contacts for this service are (phone) 1-800-303-5691 and (web) ACS Clinical Trials Matching Service. This service is offered free of charge and is confidential. Be advised, it is not a guarantee that you will be eligible for enrollment in the trial that ACS identifies as a possibility and it in no way guarantees access to treatment. It is meant to be educational and informative.

Local Resources in the 5 County SE PA Region

In South Eastern Pennsylvania (Bucks, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Delaware and Chester County), the ACS offer a few special resources that I’ll highlight here. Again, you must be a resident of one of those five counties to receive these services.

First, the Homemaker Grant program provides a one time, $300 grant to patients to pay for homemaker services, companion services or home health aide services. This person can be a professional accessed through an agency, a friend or neighbor or even a family member. The caregiver CANNOT be the spouse of the cancer patient. Your social worker is able to process the application for this grant. This program is based on a patient requiring caregiving/assistance due to cancer treatment. The patient must also be in active treatment and meet financial criteria to qualify.

Second, the ACS in this area also offers $300 in financial assistance which can be applied to emergency pharmaceutical needs, medical equipment or transportation reimbursement (gas cards)-or any combination of the three, not exceeding $300. The medication assistance must be applied to cancer related medicines and the transportation reimbursement requires paperwork to be completed in conjunction with the treatment site. The money can also be applied towards the cost of a wig or even purchase and the purchase and installation of grab bars for the bathroom. Again, the patient must be in active treatment and meet financial criteria to qualify. You can contact the ACS at 800-ACS-2345 for more information.

Just because you don’t live in the five county Philadelphia area doesn’t mean that your local ACS office doesn’t have special funding for specific programs that is available. Contact the ACS to find out what specific programs might be available in your area.

Find Cures

The ACS is dedicated to curing cancer. They fund a wide variety of research and treatment trials. These treatments may be chemotherapies, radiation methods, immune-therapies as well as treatments that may be complimentary in nature and focus on things like nutrition, reiki, meditation and expressive therapies or may even study the psychosocial impact of cancer on the patient. The American Cancer Society is the largest non-governmental funder of cancer research in the United States, spending approximately $130 million each year to work to find cures.

Fight Back

The ACS is also an amazing advocate for the needs of cancer patients, for prevention and for research dollars. Advocacy is at the core of the ACS mission. To meet that goal, the ACS has formed the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) which works closely with elected officials, policy makers and lobbyists to ensure that cancer and its treatment and prevention is a national priority.

WOW! What an amazing organization!

I cannot stress enough the importance of linking with the ACS for education, support, resources, services, advocacy and community outreach. Contact them at 800.ACS.2345 or visit their website,

The ACS is an important ALLY in the fight against cancer and one that EVERY patient should know about and access at many point during their cancer journey.

Next time I’ll focus on another AMAZING organization, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Remember, if you have a resource you’d like me to highlight on this blog, email me at [email protected]

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