Cancer coaches root for patients

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: May 9th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The diagnosis itself is traumatic enough. But the dizzying array of treatment decisions a cancer patient must make is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Is chemo really necessary? What about radiation? Is surgery the best decision?

Friends and family members may try to help, but sometimes their advice leads to more harm than good.

Now hospitals and advocacy groups are stepping in to assist shell-shocked patients. Many are now using professional cancer coaches, trained volunteers or paid workers who will help a patient wade through the mountains of information they confront and help them make the best decisions.

The American Cancer Society launched the program a few years ago and now offers information in eighty-seven locations, with plans to expand. The National Breast Cancer Coalition also trains coaches, as do several large treatment hospitals around the country.

Experts say a cancer coach should serve several important functions. He or she must provide an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Also, they should be a reliable source of information about the latest treatment options, if the patient wants it. Ultimately, they must help patients discover which options are best for them. A good coach will ask questions, take notes and gather information, but won’t interfere with the patient’s decisions.

To find a good coach, patients can ask their doctors, local cancer hospitals or advocacy groups. After all, when facing a tough opponent like cancer, it helps to have someone rooting for you each step of the way.