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Navigating Your Way Through Cancer

Cancer diagnosisDiagnosed with cancer? Hard. Finding help? Easy. The American Cancer Society (ACS) has made sure of that, stationing patient services representatives in hospitals throughout Chicago and the country.

Founded in 1913, the ACS has more than 900 offices nationwide and a presence in 5,100 communities. Patient representatives match patients undergoing cancer treatment with free services to help ease the recovery process.

“We’re here to help, and we don’t just help the patient. We help the family, too,” says ACS Patient Services Representative Sarah Little.

Following a cancer diagnosis, most people want information before anything else. The ACS understands that, and offers websites and toll-free phone numbers with the latest information on not only types of cancer, but also treatment options and clinical trials so patients know what to expect.

“We’re open to any age, with no minimum qualifications. You just have to be diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment,” explains Jessica Smith, another ACS patient services representative who works with Weiss.

But what happens when the patient begins treatment? “When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you have radiation or chemotherapy, maybe for five days a week for months,” says Smith.

ACS offers several programs to help cancer patients with the logistics associated with their treatment, including transportation, housing, cosmetic services, emotional support and financial assistance. For people who need help getting to and from their appointments, the ACS offers free rides via volunteer driver, taxi or bus. Called the Road to Recovery program, the service ensures that patients complete their treatment schedules.

Sometimes, though, a patient may live too far from the hospital or treatment center to make regular trips. For these patients, the ACS provides housing assistance.

“All you need to do is pick up the phone and call us,” Little says.

The organization also offers support in deciphering medical bills and insurance, wigs and hats, makeover kits and classes—all for free.

The Look Good…Feel Better program teaches women beauty techniques to help fight appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment such as skin redness, hair loss and acne. It includes free wigs and makeover kits (valued at $350) with products from Chanel, Clinique, Lancôme and more. In Illinois alone, Smith says, ACS spent $1.8 million on the program in 2011.

“We fit a high school girl with a wig for her homecoming dance and another woman for her wedding,” Smith adds.

The Support for Recovery program matches patients currently undergoing treatment with survivors who can talk them through their own experiences, providing hope and insight as well as answering questions.

“You can’t reach your doctor or nurse 24 hours a day, but you can reach us. We have people at our 1-800 number who speak every language, so whether you speak Spanish, Tagalog or Chinese, they can talk to you,” Smith says. “For all your questions, call day or night. Call at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, and someone will answer.”

Another program helps people pay for prescriptions and co-pays. The ACS bases financial assistance on a case-by-case basis. “Let us know your insurance, and we can tell you what’s covered, what’s not and how we can help,” Smith says.

She adds: “When most people think ACS, they think advocacy, research and prevention, but quality of life is a huge pillar.”

For more information, call 1-800-227-2345 or visit,

American Cancer Society

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