Cancer patients, survivors, their family members and caregivers may not always have access to comprehensive support services to help them navigate grueling cancer treatment and post-treatment recovery because of financial reasons, according to Eric Richards, a Zionsville resident serving as president and CEO of the Indianapolis-based nonprofit Cancer Support Community.
Richards, along with fellow Zionsville residents and Cancer Support Community board members Josh Garrett, Jayna Cacioppo and Steve Freeland, work for the nonprofit to provide a welcoming community where Indiana residents who have been affected by cancer can access free support services, regardless of socioeconomic status or insurance availability.
Garrett said he was inspired to join the organization because it is nonjudgmental and all-inclusive, in that it not only supports cancer patients but also those emotionally invested in their well-being.
“When I had an opportunity to take over the reins of this organization, I jumped at it,” Richards said. “I really saw an opportunity not only to serve people and help people, but to grow the organization, and we’ve done just that.”
In the nearly nine years Richards has been with the organization, he said the number of people it annually serves has increased tenfold, and its budget has quadrupled.
“Most of us in this world have been impacted by cancer in one way or another and have seen the impact that a diagnosis has on loved ones,” Richards said. “Like so many others, it became very easy for me to get behind our mission because of loved ones I’ve seen suffer without access to some of the services we offer here.”
One of the best parts of the job, Richards said, is the ability to build relationships with people in the community who utilize the organization’s services.
“Every time you think you’re having a bad day because something happened at home, or you forgot your lunch — the trivial things we all get stressed out about — you ultimately remember you’re interacting with people that are in the fight of their lives, and it truly puts your own life into perspective,” Richards said.
The organization can always use more assistance, Richards said, either by way of financial contributions or volunteer work.
“When you consider there are over 20,000 people just in the (Indianapolis) metropolitan area diagnosed with cancer every year, then multiply that times the number of people in their family, then add the number of survivors there are, there are hundreds of thousands of folks that we could be serving that we’re not,” Richards said.
Richards said the organization’s most utilized services are individual counseling sessions, which provide patients the opportunity to see a licensed mental health professional, and its patient assistance fund, which provides patients with gift cards to help pay for gas and groceries.
The organization also offers art therapy, educational programming, yoga, cooking classes and support groups for patients, survivors, family members and caregivers.
Richards said one of the biggest challenges the organization faces is brand awareness.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone tell me they wish they would have known about this when they were sick, or when their loved one was battling cancer,” Richards said. “We just have to get the word out that we’re here and we’re an incredible free resource for the community.”
For more on accessing the organization’s services or how to get involved with its efforts, call 317-257-1505 or visit cancersupportindy.org.