CanCare, Because Patients Make the Best Caregivers

A cancer diagnosis can be one of the most frightening things a person can ever experience. The treatment, the prognosis, the side effects – there is a plethora of new information on a daily basis, and patients can sometimes feel hopeless and alone because no one in their immediate circle has dealt with cancer before.

That’s where CanCare comes in.

CanCare is a support group for those individuals who are newly diagnosed with cancer.  A CanCare volunteer is matched with a cancer patient based on several factors – type of cancer, treatments, age and gender.  These matches then communicate and council the patient via telephone, email, text, or face to face. Reverend Neal Kuhlhorst, a longtime volunteer and instructor at CanCare, explains how CanCare is different than the usual type of support provided to cancer patients. He is associate pastor for congregational care and director of counseling at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. “We train cancer survivors on how to provide emotional support using their own journey.  They’ve survived, gone from the very frightening moment of hearing the diagnosis to beating it.”Therein lies CanCare’s unique premise.  Their volunteers are exclusively cancer survivors, which gives patients the knowledge that beating the disease is possible. “Patients want to talk with people who’ve beat it before,” Kuhlhorst says.  “Seeing a survivor makes them realize that they have a chance.”

CanCare volunteers can be found all over the Atlanta area, from hospitals to infusion centers to radiation centers.  They wear nametags, introduce themselves as survivors, and provide emotional support to whomever happens to be in treatment that day.  Communication ranges from a one-time conversation to a months-long support schedule, depending on the needs and wants of the patient. CanCare has been headquartered in Houston since 1990. They began providing CanCare services in the Johns Creek area in 2012. Johns Creek Presbyterian Church was the lead church in developing CanCare in our area. There are four covenant churches that partner with CanCare; Johns Creek Presbyterian Church, Johns Creek Baptist Church, Johns Creek United Methodist Church and Alpharetta Presbyterian Church. Volunteers represent 20 different local congregations.

“We work to fit.  CanCare is all about developing relationships,” says Kuhlhorst.  “We have certain patients who look forward to treatment because of the relationship they’ve formed with their CanCare match.”

CanCare works hard to ensure that every volunteer is prepared for any possible emotion and circumstance.  After a potential volunteer expresses an interest, an interview is conducted to make sure they are ready to counsel and support others. Then, volunteers undergo 13 hours of training; an entire weekend is dedicated to the extensive process. Volunteers learn to really listen to the person that’s talking to them and to meet the patient on their terms. They also must be able to tell their own cancer story in order to fully understand the emotional needs of others. Both an oncologist and physician visit to discuss different points of view. Lastly, volunteers unpack their own cancer journey.

CanCare’s mission is to improve the quality of life of both cancer patients and their families by providing one-to-one emotional support. From the single mom who beat breast cancer to the grandfather battling colon cancer, healing begins when some of the stress and uncertainty of the situation is alleviated; CanCare strives to provide that support to those that might not otherwise have the courage to fight or the emotional care to win the fight.