SZ Connect: Helping Community Singles Split the Sea

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By: Frieda Schweky

 Having a safe place to go when you’re fighting a life-altering ailment can make all the difference in the world. Especially when that place as been specifically designed to ease the hardships that you’re about to face. The Morris I. Franco Cancer Center is a retreat in Brooklyn where individuals with cancer and their family members can go to feel whole again.

Mr. D.J. Cohen aptly said, “It’s hard enough going through cancer. It's emotional, it is physical, it is spiritual, and it is very wearing on the body.”

The Morris I. Franco Cancer Center recognizes this truth, and aims to tackle cancer and all of its effects on a person, not only the physical ones. The Cancer Center is dedicated to assisting cancer patients and their loved ones through diagnosis, treatment, and respite. The Cancer Center offers mind-body healing modalities such as yoga, reiki, acupuncture, art and music therapy, as well as providing counseling, nutrition, guidance, and support.

The Cancer Center was established in 2009. Over 500 clients have walked through their doors. This reflects hundreds and thousands of doctor referrals, rides and escorts to doctor appointments, and dinners cooked on weeknights when mom is having trouble coping, etc.

More than Just
a Professional Resource Center

When a person gets involved with The Cancer Center, they immediately gain a valuable friend in their corner. A volunteer from the Center will go to doctor appointments with them, not just as an onlooker, but as a knowledgeable advocate for the patient, who helps translate the doctor’s words for the patient. The volunteer will make sure to ask the right questions at an appointment, to assure the patient has all information needed. Volunteers will even sit with patients through chemotherapy sessions, literally holding their hand through the entire process. Support is a key factor when it comes to fighting cancer. A hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on can make all the difference.

When diagnosed with such a notoriously vicious disease, it’s easy to fall into a well of self-pity, become irritable, and be overall depressed. Some people find it difficult to get out of bed. The Center has become, if nothing else, somewhere to go. It provides patients a reason to get out, a place to meet people, to do crafts, and feel like themselves again. It is healthy to move, to interact, to make connections, and to smile. For many people, The Center provides the location forall of those things.

Some people when diagnosed with cancer want to keep their illness a secret. They do not want anyone to know about it. For them, it can feel counterproductive to call a community resource, tell them their name, and ask for help. In this situation, The Center staff goes out of their way to make confidentiality their priority for that client. For example, when a privacy seeking patient is in The Center, all doors are closed and no one is allowed in the hallways for the times that client needs to visit The Center. No one should go at it alone for fear someone may find out. The benefits of support are too good to pass up.

Going the Extra Mile

The lifestyle of a person dealing with cancer can change rapidly. The Center has been designed to aid in most of these situations to help take stress away from an already ill individual. One example of this can be seen in the wig salon that is convenientlylocated within The Center itself. Chemotherapy often leads to hair loss. The Cancer Center provides an exclusive wig salon experience where clients can come, be fitted and styled with a wig, possibly have a manicure, and be treated to some makeup application too, to help them feel like themselves again.

“I had my best friend’s wedding one day, and The Center told me come in, we’ll do your makeup and your hair,” said Joyce Beyda, cancer survivor and former client. “Everyone was around me at the salon, supporting me, telling me how gorgeous I looked.” Joyce recalled, “When I looked in the mirror, I looked like a different person, and I forgot about a lot of things I was going through. It was a great day. I finally smiled for the first time in a long time.”

The Cancer Center offers many services to families who are impacted by cancer. The Center sends families on vacations, to shows, dinners, sports games, and concerts. They also set up tutors and homework helpers for clients or their kids as well as signing upclients for karate lessons, piano lessons, and guitar lessons.

“Our goal is to embrace the patient and family members with warm and caring attention to ensure them that they’re not alone during their challenging journey,” said Emily Anteby, Special EventsCoordinator at The Center.

Lifeline for Community Members

The Morris I. Franco Community Cancer Center has helped so many of our community members to date. The Center aids clients of all ages, from newborn to adults. They’ve touched the lives and heartsof the hundreds of people they’ve helped through the most trying times in life.

“I wish that the Center was around when I was sick,” said community member Lynda Levy. “I had to go and scramble for a doctor, not sure who I should go to. I had to scramble to get a wig, and so on. Thank Gd I have my family to support me, but now when I look at the patients going to the Center, I feel happy for them. I’m happy that they have a place to turn to in their time of need. The Cancer Center is a blessing, the volunteers are the most amazing people, and they give everything of themselves, wholeheartedly.”

Volunteers at The Center

The Cancer Center has a program called Caring Connections. With this program, clients who have finished treatments or have neared the end of their treatment connect/pair with newer clients. This gives new clients the opportunity to talk to people who have been in their shoes.

“The volunteers offer you a lot of compassion, and you feel very good when you go in and when you leave, it’s just a friendly, warm atmosphere,” said a fellow community member who spent time at The Center.

To become a volunteer, individuals must go through a two-hour group training session with a social worker. They host training sessions bimonthly. The volunteers learn sensitivity training to be able to handle whatever situations may arise. Many volunteers are former clients who are eager to give back to this invaluable community resource.

Warm and Loving Care

No two clients are exactly alike or have the identical situation.
The Center fits the needs of each individual client. They strive to evaluate the needs and wants of every individual, and go from there.

Hospitals have commented that there is nothing like this center, and although The Center tries to lend a hand toother centers, other places do not quite have the community warmth and dedication that the Morris I. Franco Community Cancer Center has.

“On the one hand you can give surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.But if you pay full attention to the emotional and psychological needs of the individual like you do here at the
Morris I. Franco Cancer Center, you can expect a 20-30% improvement in the medical outcome,” said Dr. Herbert Pardes, Past President, New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Volunteers and staff at the Center will try anything to lift spirits. The Center focuses on creating a sense of community around each cancer patient and their family so that they know they have a team of people fighting for the best possible outcome.

Upcoming Fundraiser – Table Set Go

“We have 30 or 40 people coming a week,” said Nancy Sutton, Founder and Director of the Morris I. Franco Community Cancer Center. “We have all kinds of activities and programs, we’re very comprehensive, and we do our best to light up their day. We love being here for them.”

The Morris I. Franco Community Cancer Center has a major annual fundraiser which takes place in the summer called Table Set Go. This coming summer the event is set to take place July 17th. Talented volunteers are recruited from the community to create a thematic gallery of table settings which are displayed at the event. Each year the tables have a different overall theme. Hundreds of community members attend Table Set Go to view these magnificently artistic tables and participate in the auction. A panel of clients from The Center addresses the crowd, telling their stories and answering questions. An informative video is presented in order to create cancer awareness, promote The Center’s mission, and fundraise. It’s a multi-faceted day which is always meaningful, very enjoyable, and gives our community an opportunity to support an important community service. For many, the day serves as an eye opener to what support is out there and how truly fortunate we are as a community to have such a place.