Gilda’s Club Westchester, located in White Plains and an affiliate of the international Cancer Support Community, recently launched the River Town Communities Cancer Support Services Program.
The new program aims to provide free, flexible services to under-served and Spanish-speaking residents from 19 local communities, including Briarcliff Manor, Buchanan, Crompond, Croton-on-Hudson, Crugers, Irvington, Montrose, Ossining, Peekskill, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, and Verplanck.
According to the New York State Department of Health, with a cancer incidence rate of .478% in Westchester County, an estimated 740 of the 153,875 residents in the above-mentioned river communities will be diagnosed with cancer this year. GCW wants to make sure that those patients and their families receive the vital psychological and social support they need, no matter their obstacles to high-quality care or socioeconomic status.
Local research showed an unmet need of individuals living in low-income River Town communities who were diagnosed with, or otherwise dealing with, a cancer diagnosis. The affected population included caregivers and family members, as well as those who have experienced a loss. Jen Scully, Executive Director of GCW, says, “We want these communities to know that we are here, we are free, and we are easy to access.”
There are currently huge cancer health disparities in the U.S., and Westchester is no exception. African-Americans have the highest incidence and mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined, and cancer is reported to be the leading cause of death for Hispanic individuals in the U.S.
GCW expects that 15% of its clients will not speak English, and 90% will report they would not be able to afford to pay for the care and support they receive.
Not only is there an increase in those being diagnosed with cancer, but also the cost of cancer care is rising. There is a shortage in the oncology workforce, and the healthcare system is faced with drastic access and disparity issues.
The River Town Communities Cancer Support Services Program offers psychological and social services, such as bilingual counseling sessions, support groups (including a Men’s Group, Sistah’s Circle, and Pica y Platica/Spanish Group), education and healthy lifestyle workshops (including yoga, mindfulness, expressive arts, and healthy cooking classes), social events (mahjong, knitting, and book groups), a Survivorship Series, Coping Skills Training, and a Spirituality Discussion Group. As of now, all of the programs are being held virtually–either by phone or zoom, depending on each client’s needs and circumstances.
The services are free to anyone expressing a need, in order to eliminate financial, transportation, language, work schedule, and childcare barriers. Since launching in April, the program has served over 200 river town residents.
The River Town Communities Cancer Support Services Program was made possible through a generous grant awarded by the Phelps Community Corporation (a private foundation not associated with Phelps Hospital).
“The River Town Communities Cancer Support Services Program fills a much-needed void and is a perfect fit for our organization,” says Phelps Community Corporation Board Chairman, Kenneth W. Taber. “The Gilda’s Club mission is at the very heart of what the Phelps Community Corporation strives to do: improve the health and well-being of individuals and families in the Westchester community.” The program’s future may depend on more grants like this, as well as individual donations.
GCW plans to create a Community Advisory Task Force, comprised of leaders in the River Towns, to help deepen and strengthen the connection to under-served areas. If you are a community, government or faith-based leader, consider reaching out to learn how you can help your constituents get the services they need.
If you know River Town residents whose lives are affected by cancer, let them know about this program. As Ms. Scully says, “It is our belief that community is stronger than cancer and that no one can or should face cancer alone.”
Caedra Scott-Flaherty is a writer living in Croton-on-Hudson. Find her at Caedra.com.