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Cancer Support Team: Hope, healing and helping hands

Julie Meade

It began with the realization that something essential was missing in the world of cancer treatment, something big that could radically change the way doctors ministered to their patients and helped them better cope with their disease, regardless of their prognosis.

And then that realization became a vision and that vision a reality.

Back in the 70s, Dr. Arnold M. Wald, a radiation oncologist practicing in Rye, noted that his cancer patients, whose outlook ranged from curable to palliative, needed more than help with their physical illness. His patients’ cancer diagnoses were often overwhelming and their concerns ranged from fear about their physical treatment and its side effects to anxiety about how they were going to manage their families, their jobs and their lives overall.

Determined to help his patients, Wald investigated hospice, a new concept introduced in England, but New York state had not yet accepted the practice. Undeterred, he then connected with Gayle K. Lee, a nurse skilled in patient advocacy who also understood that helping cancer patients wasn’t just about reducing tumors. It was about providing holistic care, enhancing the quality of life for those affected by cancer at any stage of the disease, and offering ongoing support.

United in their mission, Wald and Lee set out to create an organization that would fill the gap left by traditional medical care. After carefully considering the special needs and problems of their patients, they founded Cancer Support Team (CST), a nonprofit organization that provides professional nursing care, social work counseling, case management and other supportive services to individuals, families and caregivers living in southern Westchester.

Since its inception in 1978, CST has been transformative in the care of cancer patients. Instead of focusing on the negative, the program offers a continuum of care to patients at all stages of cancer and focuses on the living — however, long that might be. Every effort is made to help all patients regain a sense of control over their lives, and to be active and involved partners with the medical team in treating their disease.

Wald and Lee knew from the outset that each patient experiences cancer in different ways. They gathered together a compassionate, interdisciplinary staff of highly trained nurses and social workers who understood that they could not treat cancer in isolation. Rather, they must consider the whole person in developing an individualized plan of care. In addition to addressing a patient’s physical needs, the team responds to the emotional, socioeconomic and spiritual issues and concerns of each patient and his or her family. CST mobilizes the patient’s own strengths and abilities in a productive and positive manner.

As an independent organization, CST has the freedom and ability to provide a comprehensive program of services to a broad spectrum of patients without charge. Since it does not bill insurance agencies, it is able to tailor services to patients’ needs and to see them continuously over time. The services offered by CST are many, including care management, pain and side effect management, counseling, advocacy, referral to community resources, financial and transportation assistance and bereavement services.

CST is unique in that it is the only licensed Westchester-based home health services agency focused on cancer that provides services at no cost and without regard to insurance. Private donations, grants and CST’s fundraising efforts enable it to not only provide quality care, but to offer financial grants to the medically underserved to pay for cancer-related items and services not covered by insurance, as well as the daily
costs of living.

CST’s experienced staff is enhanced by the many volunteers who assist the organization on a consistent basis. These devoted individuals hail from many professions, such as nursing, social work and patient advocacy. These volunteers, all carefully selected and trained, enable CST to serve an even greater number of patients. Whether it’s driving them to treatment appointments, paying them visits at home or running errands, these steadfast, compassionate volunteers provide assistance and care.

Over the past 40 years, CST has grown into a well respected and highly valued organization that, through its holistic approach to cancer care, has had a profound impact on the community it serves. In 2017, its nurses, social workers and case managers served 725 patients, making 2,030 visits either in a client’s home, in the CST office or in the community. Including telephone consultations, the organization’s professional staff facilitated over 4,857 in-person “encounters” or visits. In a testament to CST’s outstanding work, in a recent survey of clients, 100 percent said they would recommend a family member or friend with cancer.

By offering a human response to human needs, the organization has played an integral role in the lives of those with cancer and their families. CST is a supportive lifeline, offering hope, healing and helping hands to those in southern Westchester who need it most.

Julie Meade, executive director of Cancer Support Team, oversees a team of 14 professionals and more than 100 volunteers in Westchester. Meade can be reached at jmeade@cancersupportteam.org.


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