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Special kits at Cancer Center help patients through treatment

by Jane Shaskan - February 26, 2007

To help cancer patients with the difficult journey through diagnosis, treatment, and survival, the Health Center’s Carol and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center offers several special resources.

The center became the first in the state to adopt a formal referral process with the American Cancer Society that allows newly diagnosed cancer patients immediate access to the society’s “Personal Health Manager” kits.

Customized according to diagnosis, the kits contain a host of information related to the patient’s particular cancer and its course, and tab index pages to record appointments, test results, insurance information, and other related matters.

“The kit was designed by the American Cancer Society as a tool to help patients take the important journey toward survivorship,” says Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, director of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center and immediate past-president of the American Cancer Society.

“It’s meant to be carried throughout treatment and used as a central place to keep and organize materials and notes.”

The agreement also gives patients access to the society’s vast 24-hour Cancer Resource Network, which is staffed by volunteers who can provide information about cancer, community resources, and support groups.

Staff of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center hope to help patients maintain a sense of control and actively participate in their care.

For women scheduled for breast cancer and reconstructive surgeries, the “Necessities Bag” has become a must.

Created by breast cancer survivor Maureen Lutz of Ridgefield, the tote bag, which has gained attention nationwide, contains items Lutz realized would have been helpful to her while she was in the hospital and at home during recovery after surgery.

The bag contains a water bottle so post-surgery patients don’t have to reach for a cup, a motion that can make an already sore arm even more so; a man’s snug undershirt that helps keep drain tubes in place; balm for dry lips; and a folder for the myriad instruction sheets patients are given.

Lutz also includes tissues, Life Savers candy, a notepad, bandages for changing dressings at home, and a soft pillow to cushion the surgical area and make a seat belt more comfortable on the ride home.

She often adds more items as she thinks of new ways to help make breast cancer patients more comfortable.

Pauline Miller, an oncology social worker in the cancer center, says the Necessities Bags also give patients the opportunity to talk about their breast cancer with their families.

“We have the training to diagnose and treat our patients, but nothing can beat experience in recognizing the little things that are missing and could so easily be provided,” says Nancy Baccaro, a nurse practitioner at the cancer center who helped distribute the first Necessities Bags to patients last summer.

“Maureen created something from the heart, something she knew about from experience,” says Baccaro. “Hopefully the bags will provide a source of comfort to our patients.”

Other support activities at the cancer center include the Navigator Care Program, which pairs patients with specially trained volunteers who act as patient advocates.

They help breast cancer patients get through the maze of medical treatments, appointments, and screening tests; arrange transportation to and from medical examinations; and provide support through friendship.

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