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New support for those with cancer

Cancer patients may get reams of medical advice, but little counseling for emotional effects and everyday living concerns. A new program's goal is to put help just minutes away.

By SUSAN ASCHOFF, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 16, 2002

For a year Tampa Bay hosted the trial run of a program that takes counseling to cancer patients and their families regardless of income or location.

Now the lessons learned here will be applied to 20 more counties in Florida, and its creators hope to take it nationwide.

Called ICAN, or the Individual Cancer Assistance Network, the program gives emotional and practical support to those in need through one-on-one counseling with trained therapists.

Statistics show almost half of those diagnosed with cancer experience significant mental distress, but fewer than one-fourth get help.

"This is a new approach and model" and Tampa was the proving grounds, says John Damonti, president of Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation Inc., the drugmaker's charitable arm and ICAN sponsor.

ICAN recruits and trains counselors and pays some of the costs of counseling so individuals can receive up to six one-hour sessions, paying only what they can afford. No health insurance is necessary.

The goal, says Damonti, is to put a counselor no more than 20 miles or a 20-minute drive away from anyone needing help.

ICAN came to Florida for its pilot run because of the state's demographic diversity. Organizational work began in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee and Sarasota counties in April 2001. Two weeks ago the program expanded to 20 additional counties in Central and South Florida.

About 100 people have received assistance and almost 90 trained counselors are now part of ICAN.

Tampa Bay's existing network of social services and health care providers proved a boon to the new program. The nonprofit CancerCare and H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa trained therapists in the medicine and the mind set of cancer. The Alliance for Children and Families, a nonprofit agency advocating for families in every state, had social workers and therapists dealing with employment and other family crises who were willing to take on cancer counseling.

For those dealing with the disease, a sounding board often provides sanity.

"With a major health issue, you're confronted with medical "to dos.' But there needs to be time built in to deal with the emotions. What about my family? What about my fears for the future? How am I going to cope?" explains Tom Harvey of the Milwaukee-based Alliance for Children and Families.

Reaching potential clients is key, says Damonti. Most patients receive treatment outside major cancer centers, so ICAN delivered brochures to oncology practices, met with nursing associations and talked to service groups. Radio spots and newspaper ads timed to the expansion to more counties tell the public: "When facing cancer, these are fighting words: I can."

Officials hope to expand to the northern half of Florida, including Citrus and Hernando counties, then to other states. How quickly the program grows will largely depend on funding, currently provided by Bristol-Myers Squibb, CancerCare and the Alliance.

For information

For information or to enroll in the ICAN program, call toll-free 1-866-359-4226 or see the Web site

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