Tom MacNeil Problem Solver

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Tom MacNeil – Problem Solver“Rewarding” is how Tom MacNeil, a social worker at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre, and award recipient of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation’s first Caring Spirit Award*, describes his job.

Problem-solver is how others may describe what he does. On any given day, Tom might be conducting a support group, counselling individual patients, offering cancer-related education sessions, or helping patients with a variety of financial issues.

While dealing with the disease is challenging enough, emotional and financial issues place  additional strain on patients and families: questions about surviving cancer, supporting your loved ones, tolerating the treaments, talking with family and friends about the experience and getting back to normal after living through cancer.

When someone is diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer, Tom says two things generally happen on the financial side: income decreases and expenses increase. Often patients will need to work less or give up employment temporarily or permanently, while at the same time facing costs they didn’t have before. The extra expenses generally relate to prescription drugs and transportation costs to attend medical appointments.

“To offer solace to someone going through a difficult emotional time is very gratifying,” he says. “Passing on coping tips, lending an ear or offering a practical solution to a problem is most satisfying. Patients and families are always grateful for any help that is offered.”

Tom adds that cancer does not occur in a vacuum. “There were bills before cancer; now there are more. For that matter, there were emotional concerns too. Only now the spotlight is on them.”

Although the challenges of living with and coping with cancer are much as they’ve always been, Nova Scotia is making strides in the emotional supports available to patients. At both cancer centres there are opportunities to access some complementary therapies such as Reike, Body Talk, Yoga, Therapeutic Touch and massage. Even so, patients and caregivers still need more support than they are receiving.

Cancer Care Nova Scotia has certainly brought the issue of supportive care for cancer patients to the forefront,” says Tom. The organization’s education programs are making an impact and the distress management tool being developed is very positive.”

In Nova Scotia, like other provinces, one of the areas needing continued focus is drug coverage. “Family pharmacare is certainly a step in the right direction,” says Tom, “but is proving to be totally inadequate for patients on a middle inclome who require high cost medications.”

When financial challenges such as drug coverage arise, Tom and other health professionals look to special charities and funds to help patients make ends meet. The Cape Breton Cancer Centre’s Cancer Patient Fund, which operates through generous donation to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation, is one fund that was set up to help patients in need. Established in 2005, the fund covers prescriptions, medical travel and a myriad of other financial concerns associated with a cancer diagnosis.

“I’m extremely proud and grateful for this fund,” says Tom. “Without it, many of our cancer patients would be faced with significant – not if overwhelming – financial hardship.”

While a cancer diagnosis places a tremendous burden on cancer patients and families, dedicated health professionals, like Tom, work with patients and families to find ways to problem-solve issues and ease the strain of living with cancer.

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