Help Is Right Here – Personalized Care For Breast Cancer Patients
“How can I help?” When a family member or friend is diagnosed with breast cancer, this might be the first question you ask. As a now four-year survivor of the disease, I can absolutely say the best answer is: Do anything that lends support and keeps life as normal as possible.
Support is also at the core of The Norma Pfriem Breast Center and The Cancer Couch Foundation, local organizations whose missions are to assist those facing a breast cancer diagnosis. Funded in large part by generous donations from individuals and companies in the Fairfield area, both offer programs and help that directly impacts patients and their families in profound and powerful ways.
The Norma Pfriem Breast Center
The Patient Navigator program at the Norma Pfriem Breast Center is invaluable for those trying to wrap their head around a cancer diagnosis. With free support groups, yoga, music therapy, and financial support for medical or everyday expenses, the Pfreim center was the first breast care institution in Connecticut to extend patient navigation to those in active treatment or in survivorship.
Rachel Abraham, a social worker who is one of two patient navigators at the Pfriem Center, says that her services are offered at no cost thanks to financial contributions from those living in the Fairfield area. Her goal? Help patients work through any barriers to treatment, which can be “logistical, emotional, or even financial,” she explains. “Patient navigation in my mind is defined as helping the patient get the best quality of care for their cancer treatment.”
Fairfield resident Kassandra Savicki met with Rachel soon after finding out she had breast cancer in September 2015. “When you are first diagnosed, there is so much to learn and understand on top of the emotional drain and fear,” says Savicki, a mother of two. “Having a patient navigator was like having a really informed friend who had gone through this before me.”
Janeen Fountain was already friendly with Abraham from her previous job as a medical assistant in radiation oncology. But when Fountain herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2017, she quickly realized how critical a role patient navigation would play in her overall well-being.
“Each step of the way, Rachel made sure that I understood what was transpiring,” says Fountain, now a patient account representative at Bridgeport Hospital. “Everything moved very fast, appointments were being scheduled left and right. Rachel clarified information for me when I may have felt overwhelmed or confused.”
Abraham also helped Fountain and her family to keep going in other ways. When Fountain couldn’t work full-time due to treatments, doctor’s appointments, and because she just didn’t feel well, her family’s income diminished. She and her husband faced the uncomfortable reality of figuring out how to pay for daycare and other necessary household expenses.
“I reached out to Rachel, and she let me know there were resources available to pay daycare for a short time,” says Fountain. “Rachel also told me to bring in our utility bills. This was very hard for my husband and me, but we knew we had to put our pride aside and focus on me getting well. Rachel handled our financial challenges with grace and professionalism.”
The Cancer Couch Foundation
While best known for fundraising to benefit life- saving metastatic breast cancer (MBC) research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, The Cancer Couch Foundation also sets aside a portion of donations for “Angel Funds” that helps MBC patients continue their quality of everyday life.
“People who host events that raise money for The Cancer Couch Foundation can choose to have ten percent earmarked before event proceeds come in to set up Angel Funds for those in their community with metastatic breast cancer in financial hardship,” says Rebecca Timlin-Scalera, founder.
Rebecca, who is battling stage-four MBC herself, recently appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show” in order to spread the word about the foundation’s fundraising efforts, and she also shared the impact of donations to the studies they fund. “When I read the annual reports from these funds, it always brings tears to my eyes knowing that we helped someone buy their child a birthday present or diapers, or pay their gas bill that month,” she says.
Photo at top: Fairfield, Connecticut, 7/5/2019 – Patient Navigator Rachel Abraham (in blue) talks with survivor Janeen Fountain at Norma Pfriem Breast Center in Fairfield. Photo by Stan Godlewski