When cancer rears its ugly head, despair and hopelessness become a reality. People need help on many levels, in addition to medical expertise, and the Cancer Support Team in Purchase, New York, is a powerful, reliable resource. Cancer Support Team (CST) is the only Westchester-based nonprofit home care program licensed by the New York State Department of Health that provides access to essential healthcare, professional nursing, social work counseling, case management and other support services free of charge and without regard to the insurance coverage of their patients at any stage of illness.
The goal of CST is a simple one: to provide compassionate, holistic, comprehensive care to people of all ages who are being treated for cancer, primarily in their homes. Because cancer’s devastation reaches family members as well, CST also provides counseling and support for them. Since all services are free, the staff has the freedom and time to remain with the patient throughout the cancer journey, caring for the individual and his or her family as needs develop and change over time.
CST is the brainchild of the late Dr. Arnold M. Wald. While in active practice as a radiation oncologist in Rye, New York, Dr. Wald realized that although his patients with cancer had access to treatment for their tumors, there were few services available to help them and their families meet other needs.
In 1978, Wald joined with Gayle Lee, a registered nurse with experience in patient advocacy, and launched the Cancer Support Team. Since its inception, CST has served thousands of individuals and families.
In 1986, Wald explained what had inspired him to create CST in a presentation to the Sixth World Congress on Care for the Terminally Ill: “As a practicing radiotherapist, I became increasingly aware of the multiple needs of my patient population...needs that could not be addressed in the space of an office visit. I sensed their pain, heard their fears and witnessed their suffering. Despite my best efforts, my own time and energy were finite...Ultimately, I could not prevent the dying of so many, but I could offer compassion, comfort and support to my patients. My objective [for CST] was to develop a program to focus on living...however long that might be. Not to deny or refute death, but to affirm life as fully as possible.”
CST members are salaried professionals. The staff is composed of:
Registered nurses who teach patients about chemotherapy and other medicines, tell them what to expect if surgery is needed, instruct them about their particular cancer and provide support. Pain management and nutritional guidance are also provided.
Case managers who assist patients and their families with financial concerns. Their responsibilities include assisting patients with insurance issues, informing patients of their right to government entitlements and helping patients complete application forms. Information about additional community resources is also discussed and referrals can be made to those organizations.
CST social workers provide counseling to patients and their families who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis. They help with emotional concerns, changes in family relationships, finding care for patients’ young children, employments issues and more. CST also offers support groups focused on cancer-related issues. Bereavement counseling is available to family members after a loss.
CST has bilingual staff members for Spanish-speaking patients and families.
CST volunteers, using their own cars, provide transportation to patients for chemotherapy and radiation appointments.
CST offers social and educational services by providing information about cancer diagnoses and treatment options recommended by medical providers. The team organizes workshops on topics such as survivorship and cancer-related community resources. At the annual Gayle K. Lee Women’s Health Awareness Luncheon, internationally renowned physicians are invited to speak on cancer related issues. Life Lines, a CST publication, is an informative resource, provided free of charge, containing details on many of the local and national organizations that serve the needs of individuals with cancer and their families. At the Purchase location, one can visit the Barbara Melamed Memorial Library, where patients and family members can locate books, pamphlets and resource guides and attend meetings with staff members.
Sharon Lavery, RN, has worked for CST in Westchester for more than six years. She shared, “It is an honor to work for CST because it allows me to practice nursing as I believe it should be practiced, where the patient always comes first and I have the satisfaction of knowing I have given the best care possible.”
As CST provides all services free of charge, donations are greatly appreciated and are tax deductible. A main source of revenue is CST’s annual dinner. This year “CST Celebrates 40 Years of Care and Compassion” is the theme of its gala dinner, to be held on Thursday, May 3, at the Willow Ridge Country Club in Harrison, New York. CST will be presenting “The 40th Anniversary Legacy Award” to Swim Across America’s Tony Sibio and Frank Webers, with gratitude for their 20 years of support and to Betty Wald and the Lee family to honor the memory and vision of CST’s founders, Arnold M. Wald, MD, and Gayle K. Lee, RN. Kosher food will be available upon request, and should be requested along with your dinner reservation. For further information please visit www.cancersupportteam.org or call 914-777-2777.
By Yvette Finkelstein