From the fear and endless jargon to the paperwork and financial questions, being diagnosed with cancer is an overwhelming experience. Creating a support and information network is often an important first step, and now Valley cancer patients and their families have one additional resource to turn to.
The Phoenix Cancer Support Network (PCSN) was incorporated as a nonprofit earlier this year, and has recently ramped up its outreach. In November, the group held a Giving Tuesday fundraiser that raised $3,000 and distributed 60 care packages for patients receiving chemotherapy. This month, the organization held a Family Fun Day at the Valley of the Sun JCC.
Jenny Martin, PCSN’s founder and CEO and a member of Temple Solel, first had the idea for the organization about a year and a half ago. Despite her own background as a health care administrator, Martin found that when her sister, Annie Weber, was diagnosed with cancer, the many decisions that had to be made were difficult to process.
“How do you know that you have the right doctors?” Martin asked. “How do you know that the treatment is appropriate? You can Google things, but who knows what you’re getting?”
Even after Weber lost her battle with cancer, people still reached out to Martin with questions when they or someone they loved faced the same challenge.
“I was thinking, ‘There’s so many people out there that need this kind of service — so many more than just the people we know,’” Martin said. “‘So how can we deliver that kind of service to people and do it in my sister’s honor?’”
Martin assembled a group of seven people, including her father, Dr. Jeffrey M. Weber, and spent the next year organizing and incorporating as a nonprofit.
PCSN is not, of course, the first Valley group to offer support to cancer patients. There is also the veteran Cancer Support Community of Arizona (CSCAZ), an affiliate of the national Cancer Support Community (CSC). CSCAZ was formed in 1999 as a home away from home for those impacted by cancer. Both organizations provide their services free of charge.
Harold Benjamin founded CSC, originally known as the Wellness Center, in Santa Monica, California, in 1982 after his wife, Harriet, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
For 18 years, CSCAZ has been growing its services in Arizona. The group provides free access to their location for other organizations serving the cancer community. Since 1999, CSCAZ has served roughly 200,000 people, according to CSCAZ CEO Debbie DiCarlo.
In 2002, CSCAZ’s building at 360 W. Palm Lane was dedicated as the Ina Levine House in honor of the efforts of philanthropist Bill Levine, who’d worked with a group of other people — Greta Shipman, Sue Della Maddalena, Diane Walker, David Frazer and Jerry Hirsch — to acquire the historic but neglected house in downtown Phoenix.
CSCAZ offers information on yoga classes, healthy diets, ceramics workshops, support groups and referrals to partner organizations. In addition, the organization encourages people and medical professionals to understand the correlation between quality of life and health outcomes, and to put that understanding into practice in as welcoming and home-like an environment as possible.
The upstart PCSN and stalwart CSCAZ do have some overlap in services, as both provide referrals to other support organizations. But PCSN, which is staffed by volunteers, says they offer one key difference: providing services directly to patients and their families in the patient’s home.
“CSCAZ provides a lot of really great support group activities for patients going through a cancer journey,” Martin explained. “We do utilize [CSCAZ] services to connect patients to each other and to other support groups that are needed.
“That being said, what PCSN does is actually provide care for patients in their home, whether it be meal services or other kinds of domestic needs, house cleaning, childcare, transportation to medical appointments. If their are gaps that the CSCAZ needs that we can fill, they’ll call us and we’ll help them with those other services.”
The two groups complement each other and work together. CSCAZ displays PCSN literature at their office.
“There are so many families struggling with cancer and there are so many things the CSCAZ doesn’t do,” DiCarlo said. “We do not provide financial assistance. We do not provide transportation. We do not provide food assistance. One of our primary pillars is resource referrals, so that we can connect families to the resources they need.”
And now, thanks to the vision of Jenny Martin, and the memory of her sister, CSCAZ and Valley patients have one more resource to help navigate an often bewildering time. JN