Roads We've Traveled

Ordinary Heroes: Boston Cancer Support, Part II

BOSTON – When Susan Chaityn Lebovits and Beth Freeman teamed up to form the non-profit Boston Cancer Support (BCS), they wanted to identify and address some of the most pressing needs of cancer patients, their families, and the clinicians who work with them. To do this, BCS holds Cancer Collaborative workshops across the state three times a year.

The workshops bring together health care professionals and organizations that support patients and their families to meet face to face, hear cutting edge speakers, and brainstorm during breakout sessions

A former journalist, Chaityn Lebovits, said their first Cancer Collaborative focused on Massachusetts’ South Shore and immediately identified the desperate need for transportation.

Aside from trips back and forth to hospitals for outpatient chemotherapy, patients may find it helpful to attend support groups to maintain their psychosocial health during this stressful time. Costs for these trips – gas, parking fees, taxi fares – can add up quickly, and Chaityn Lebovits and Freeman wanted to find a way to ease these burdens.

Freeman, a successful realtor and cancer survivor contacted Lyft at the time that they were looking expand to the east coast, and Lyft agreed to partner with BCS and offer each new rider five free rides, worth up to $10.

“That is basically $50 that give every person that comes to our website to sign up for Lyft,” said Freeman. “It was the start of a really successful program that also gave Lyft an entrée into the health care arena.”

Tackling Problems

Freeman said that while $50 is certainly generous, the money doesn’t always go very far for patients coming from the suburbs.  A single trip from say, Needham to Longwood could cost $25-30. Furthermore, not everyone speaks English and not everyone has a cell phone. For this reason BCS partnered with Lyft  to offer a concierge service. Freeman said that nearly all of the funding raised by BCS goes directly to financing transportation.

 Other Resources

“The online portal is continuously updated with helpful information,” said Chaityn Lebovits, “Resources range from temporary housing, transportation, support groups, and smaller financial aid opportunities that patients and families might not know about.”

One of those is “Paddle for Recovery” which offers free classes in stand-up paddle boarding for cancer patients who’ve completed treatment,  and friend or family member who supported the patient during that time. The class aims to get patients out and into nature to help with stress reduction and recovery. The group also provides the necessary equipment for the classes.

Another group is the Well Spouse Association, a nonprofit focused on helping people care for their chronically ill and/or disabled spouses. According to the Well Spouse website, the organization offers peer support and education for patients, their spouses and health care professionals addressing the” special challenges and unique issues  that the ‘well’ spouses face every day.”

“Hospitality Homes” is another nonprofit listed on BCS website. Volunteers open up their homes and offer short-term housing, at no cost. to cancer patients undergoing treatment. These patients may live a few hours away or may be from out of state.

Financial aid options at the federal, state, and local level are listed, such as The Joe Andruzzi Fund. Andruzzi, a former New England Patriot, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Burkitt’s lymphoma in 2007. Andruzzi left football and, after treatment, is cancer-free. He launched the Joe Andruzzi Fund to help cancer patients and their families deal with the expense of treatment.

Joe Andruzzi, founder of the Joe Andruzzi Fund and friends.

BCS also lists cancer support groups that are available throughout the state, both in person and online. Chaityn Lebovits said online support groups can be a great first entry for people who may not be quite ready to attend an in-person group setting, but still may want to connect and get support.

A few months back Chaityn Lebovits received an email from a patient on the North Shore who was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was looking for a support group and understandably, was quite overwhelmed.

“We were able to find a local support group for him and include a coupon code for transportation,” said Chaityn Lebovits. “It’s really gratifying when you can help someone like this.”

Testimonials from health care providers, patients, and their families express great appreciation for BCS and their work, from Boston and Chelsea, MA to Ohio and California.

Chaityn Lebovits said that there was some concern on her end with the new presidential administration and implications of across-the-board cuts, but she also feels that, in the end, people want to help

“This is such a critical need – transportation and support in the cancer communities – I’m confident that it will continue,” said Chaityn Lebovits.