Cancer Connection Shifts Services During Pandemic, but Financial Need Remains Great

NORTHAMPTON — Cancer Connection’s free cancer-support services, like befriending, can make people who are dealing with the uncertainty, isolation, and grief of cancer feel less isolated and more hopeful.

“To face the challenges of our illness or of caring for our loved ones, we need someone who will meet us where we’re at and listen without opinion, pity, or judgment. Someone who will let us talk, laugh, or cry if we want to. Someone who will help us remember that we are still the person we were before a cancer diagnosis,” Participant Services Director Sheila Kelley said. “Whether you or a loved one have just been diagnosed, are in the middle of treatment, or have finished treatment and still need support, we encourage you to call and leave a message for our befrienders.”

Cancer Connection calls its center a haven where befriending is woven into every aspect of its work to support people with cancer as well as their caregivers and family members. Before the pandemic, the center hummed with people talking individually or in groups, dancing to music in a movement class, lying down and receiving acupuncture or massage, and even playing harmonica together in a class taught by a participant who wanted to give back.

“In-person services are currently paused, since people with cancer are in a COVID high-risk category,” Kelley said. “Please, tell your friends and family facing cancer that we are here for them, though, in ways that address the difficulties the pandemic poses for people with cancer and those caring for them.”

They can take advantage of music and movement, as well as mindfulness, through videoconferencing. The center has temporarily retooled its integrative therapies, with Reiki, reflexology, and massage therapists providing sessions via telehealth focused on calming strategies. Its support groups also continue through remote technology.

Typically, Cancer Connection funds these free services with the proceeds from its entrepreneurial arm, the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop, and gifts, grants, and fundraising events. “This is anything but a typical year,” Executive Director Beverly Herbert said. “We face an emergency, which I don’t say lightly. A serious financial gap, like that faced by other area nonprofits, has been caused by the pandemic-related closure of our Thrift Shop for five months, March through July, and event cancellations. We have been working hard since August to raise $250,000 to close the gap.”

The Thrift Shop reopened Aug. 5 “to great demand,” Herbert added, “and, thanks to grants and donations, we’re now over 80% of the way toward that goal, toward securing our future. So many people have volunteered, made financial contributions, and donated to and shopped at our Thrift Shop. They’ve even organized their own fundraisers. But we need to keep going. If we don’t reach our goal, we won’t be able to survive 2020 intact, putting hundreds of local people who depend on our comforting and strengthening supports at risk of losing them.”

Herbert noted several timely ways to get involved. Volunteers crafted ornaments, which can be bought at local farm stands from now until Christmas, with all proceeds benefiting the organization. Have an old vehicle to donate that you’d rather not shelter all winter? Cancer Connection accepts those through Donate for Charity. Details about that, and options for donations of many kinds, can be found at cancer-connection.org/donate.

For individual support or information about integrative therapies, groups, and programs, call Cancer Connection at (413) 586-1642 or e-mail info@cancer-connection.org.