The American Cancer Society’s National Cancer Information Center (NCIC) responds to more than 1.2 million requests for information and support services each year through phone, email and live chat. Cancer Information Specialists (CIS) are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.
CIS empower patients and their caregivers to participate in decision making, communicate with their treatment team, and cope with issues that arise throughout their cancer experience. NCIC staff also provides navigation assistance to patients throughout their cancer experience, including coordinating patient rides to and from treatment and lodging if they need to travel away from home for treatment. They also connect patients to local and national resources, including help with managing the appearance-related side effects of treatment, emotional support, and other resources that help with the wide range of needs of those affected by cancer.
CIS spend most of their day answering calls from patients, caregivers, donors, and others who need answers, care and support. “In many cases, team members are experiencing a patient diagnosis or treatment secondhand as they tell us their story,” said Kimberly Lacorte, cancer information specialist. “The calls can be difficult, challenging, and emotional, while also rewarding.” Other NCIC teams handle different calls that also bring about their own challenges.
Many team members develop what is known as compassion fatigue during the day as they handle difficult calls and cope with each caller’s impact. According to Dr. Charles Figley and Paul Henry Kurzweg, “compassion fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” While the effects of compassion fatigue can cause pain and suffering, learning to recognize and manage its symptoms is the first step toward healing. Fortunately, several programs, like NCIC’s Creative Care Program, are available to help staff decompress and minimize burnout that can result from compassion fatigue.
Through the class, Kimberly, who majored in fine arts, is able to use what she learned from school to help team members use their creativity to decompress. She developed the idea for the class with another colleague two years ago and led a few of the sessions in the beginning. “We provide a buffet of different art supplies for staff to use,” she said. “The guidelines are loose. We don’t want an art class, but we know the process of creating art is a journey in itself.” The class is now being offered monthly to staff and participation is voluntary.
The Creative Care Program is a great outlet for artistic expression and also allows a way to de-stress from all the emotional calls staff take at NCIC. In addition, staff can also participate in a Peer Support Group. There is also a meditation room with low light and soft music that NCIC staff can visit to decompress.
Since opening its doors in 1997, NCIC has helped the Society develop relationships and empower millions of constituents while fostering an atmosphere of hope, trust, and compassion. Our staff is critical to our success and the Creative Care Class is an innovative way we support them as they support those who reach out to us for help.
Kevin Babb (Vice President of the American Cancer Society’s National Cancer Information Center)