Now in Its 71st Year, CancerCare Looks to  Expand Services to Patients and Caregivers

A Conversation With Patricia J. Goldsmith

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Patricia J. Goldsmith

Having cancer changed everything, including my outlook on what is important in life. I think getting the diagnosis just before starting my new position was meant to be, because it gave me an even greater appreciation of the important services the organization provides to people affected by this disease.

—Patricia J. Goldsmith

Eleven days before Patricia J. ­Goldsmith, joined CancerCare as its CEO last May, she received the unexpected news that she had early-stage colorectal cancer. While the diagnosis was shocking, Ms. Goldsmith said it gave her a unique perspective on what it means to have this serious disease and a greater understanding of the emotional and financial impact cancer has on the more than 170,000 people nationwide who turn to CancerCare each year for support.

“Getting my cancer diagnosis made the work we do at CancerCare very personal,” said Ms. Goldsmith. “Having cancer changed everything, including my outlook on what is important in life. I think getting the diagnosis just before starting my new position was meant to be, because it gave me an even greater appreciation of the important services the organization provides to people affected by this disease.”

Founded in 1944, CancerCare is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization providing free support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical, and financial challenges of having cancer. Its services include counseling and support groups by phone, online, and in person; publications; educational workshops; and financial and copayment assistance. All CancerCare services are provided by professional oncology social workers. Each year, CancerCare distributes more than $23 million in financial and copayment assistance to people in need.

Prior to joining CancerCare, Ms. Goldsmith was Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

Recently, The ASCO Post spoke with Ms. Goldsmith about her goals for CancerCare, the public’s greatest misperception about the organization, and meeting increasing demand for services.

Four Key Initiatives

Please talk about your vision and goals for CancerCare over the coming decade.

My overarching vision is to help the organization further expand its mission to provide support to anyone who has experienced a cancer diagnosis or been touched by cancer in some way. To accomplish that goal, we are focusing on four key initiatives, all of which have equal priority, but will take different amounts of time, effort, and resources to execute.

One initiative is in the area of public policy. We have an obligation to be the voice of patients with cancer and caregivers and to educate various stakeholders, including elected officials and health-care policymakers, about the challenges and struggles patients and their caregivers face. We are in the process of defining that agenda now.

Another initiative is to build a comprehensive database system that will be the repository of the vast amount of information we collect on patients and their caregivers over a long continuum. The first point of contact for individuals seeking support is our oncology social workers, and often they interact with those patients and caregivers several times for counseling, financial assistance, or some of the many other services we offer. As a result, we have important data regarding the major challenges patients and caregivers are coping with, but the information currently resides in several disparate databases.

Having all the information in one system will give us a very broad depth of data and information on individuals’ experiences with cancer and their specific needs and allow us to provide an even more personalized experience to those using our services, as well as to help improve their quality of life.

A third initiative is to raise awareness on a nationwide basis of the services CancerCare provides with a new branding strategy so people immediately connect our name to our mission. Because we are headquartered in New York, some people think we only serve the Greater New York area. Last year, however, we served 170,000 individuals in 92% of U.S. counties with counseling, educational workshops and publications, and financial resources. In addition, we had 1.5 million visits to our website. All of this speaks to the number of people turning to us for assistance, as well as to how many people need help during their journey with cancer.

Our fourth initiative is to work with major corporations and insurers to develop a tailored and personalized support product for employees/members and their loved ones diagnosed with cancer. This will include education on becoming an engaged patient to help ensure access to the best care for each individual.

Of course, to accomplish all these goals we need increased funding, and we are pursuing a variety of new strategies to raise revenue for our programs.

Keeping Pace

Over the next 15 years, the number of Americans diagnosed with cancer will increase by 45% and the number of cancer survivors will rise to over 18 million. How will the services CancerCare provides keep pace with the increasing numbers of cancer survivors?

The initiatives I talked about earlier are meant to help us expand our mission to help more people and to become the go-to organization for anyone who has experienced a cancer diagnosis. But our capacity cannot currently accommodate that demand. We recently added four oncology social workers to our staff, which will help with the short-term increase in the number of clients we can serve.

We believe the way to meet a significant growth in demand, however, is to tell our story on a national level. It is essential that we raise the funds needed to expand our capacity. We are very proud of the fact that we served 170,000 people last year, but when the word gets out about our services, we could be asked to assist 1,170,000 people given the breadth of programs that we provide. Right now, it would be impossible to meet that demand.

The Internet has been a major avenue for reaching more people. As I mentioned, last year we had 1.5 million visits to our website, and many of our services are provided via the Internet or WebEx videoconferencing. For example, we provide 70 Connect Education Workshops through the Internet or by telephone that feature leading experts in oncology discussing the latest treatments and advances in cancer care.

Through those workshops, we reached as many as 43,000 people last year alone. We also have both in-person and online support groups led by oncology social workers. In addition, we distribute 800,000 educational booklets and fact sheets written by oncology experts on a wide range of cancer-related topics from disease-specific information to how the Affordable Care Act is impacting patients with cancer.

Those publications are available online or can be mailed directly to clients and providers. And, again, all of our services are free.

We are in a moment of transformation as an organization moving from what we currently are to what we will be in the future. Our ultimate aim is to be the most active support and advocacy organization in health care providing the highest-quality services to improve the lives of those affected by cancer. ■

Disclosure: Ms. Goldsmith reported no potential conflicts of interest.