Tonawanda News

October 17, 2010

NT-based service offers support, counseling to cancer patients

By Paul Lane

NORTH TONAWANDA — There used to be a time when the word “cancer” wasn’t even in most people’s vocabularies.

Rather than utter the disease’s name, according to Hillary Ruchlin, people would use the term “the big C” to denote what illness they were talking about.

Times have changed for the better, said Ruchlin, executive director of the Cancer Wellness Center in North Tonawanda. People now know that “the big C” is far from a death sentence, that the disease can be beaten.

People know that there is hope.

As head of the CWC, Ruchlin leads a two-person crew (she’s joined by program director Patricia A. Baia) in coordinating three primary programs that are aimed to benefit cancer patients.

The first program is the cancer coach program, which pairs newly diagnosed cancer patients with volunteers who share the same disease. After a patient calls seeking a coach, Ruchlin and Baia find a person with the same form of cancer to offer support through phone calls, live visits or any other means the patient needs.

“They’re amazing,” Ruchlin said of the more than 135 cancer survivors who volunteer their services. “They are eager to help ... and they do a fabulous job.”

The one thing that patients won’t receive from a coach, Baia said, is medical advice. That’s left to doctors.

“It’s just great emotional support,” Baia said. “Some of these people have nobody, and these coaches can be there.”

The CWC’s second program is a mentoring class offered to second-year medical school students at the University at Buffalo. UB students practice the delivery of bad news to CWC volunteers, who then grade the students on the level of compassion, whether they offered adequate support resources and whether the students reassured the patients that the patients would have doctoral support throughout treatment.

“These students were never trained on this before,” Ruchlin said. “They’d just learn it from other doctors. And if the other doctors weren’t compassionate, then that would just spread.”

The third CWC program is a monthly spirituality and healing class held at Daemen College in Amherst. Led by Dr. Charles Sabatino and Dr. Cheryl Nosek, these classes are offered because of the link between a patient’s spiritual inclination and quality of life (these seminars do not involve religion, Ruchlin noted).

Having worked in the cancer support field most of her life, Ruchlin started the CWC more than 12 years ago because of what she saw as an inadequate offering of encouragement for cancer patients.

“We saw the need in the community,” said Ruchlin, who said the CWC moved to NT about two years ago from Buffalo. “We really care. We want (patients) to get the best possible care.”

Since its founding, the CWC has helped hundreds of local patients, as well as patients as far away as Canada, England and France, Baia said.

With one phone call, Baia said, a patient can receive any CWC service free of charge. Grants, donations and volunteer services keep the center afloat. While she doesn’t enjoy the fiscal part of the job, Ruchlin said that finding the funding is worth it.

“When someone’s been diagnosed, very often they isolate themselves. This brings them out,” said Ruchlin about the CWC. “They have a friend. They do not have to go through this by themselves.”


• WHAT: Healing meeting sponsored by the Cancer Wellness Center; the topic is “How to Deal with Stress and Pain Through Guided Imagery and Mind Body Communication”

• WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 20

• WHERE: Daemen College, Business Building room 107-109, Main Street, Amherst

• MORE INFORMATION: Call 694-1395 or visit