TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Challenge, a nonprofit organization based in Victoria, Australia, has been supporting families experiencing cancer for more than 30 years. Challenge helps address the emotional, social and practical needs of cancer patients and their families.
Cancer and Its Impact Worldwide
Globally, cancer has the highest economic impact on people out of all of the causes of death in the world. According to the American Cancer Society study, the worldwide economic impact of premature deaths and disabilities that cancer caused amounted to $895 billion in 2008.
Cancer is a complex disease in which a patient’s abnormal body cells grow uncontrollably and often spread to other parts of the body. There are more than 200 different types of cancer, which are classified according to where the cell growth originates in the body. Cancer continues to impose an enormous burden upon people, families, communities and health care systems worldwide.
The disease and its associated treatment are especially destructive due to the massive physical, emotional and financial strain that it places upon patients and their families. Countries with strong health systems have higher cancer survival rates due to improvements in accessibility to early detection, treatment and survivorship care.
Conversely, individuals in poorer countries with weaker or nonexistent health systems, as well as socioeconomic disadvantages such as inadequate housing, chronic malnutrition or a lack of education have lower survival rates for all types of cancer.
Additionally, people living in persistent poverty are associated with a higher risk of dying from cancer due to societal and environmental inequalities that have been proven to lead to poorer health outcomes. Social determinants of health such as access to nutritious food, safe housing, violence, water and air pollution and more have a large impact on people’s health and quality of life.
How Challenge Helps
Challenge is a nonprofit organization aiming to alleviate cancer’s economic and emotional impact on a patient and their families. Australian Red Cross established Challenge in 1983 and has evolved into its own organization that works to meet the needs of children and families affected by cancer. Based in Victoria, Australia, Challenge offers immediate support to families in Australia who are seeking help after a child or young adult receives initial cancer or life-threatening blood disorder diagnosis.
David Rogers, CEO of Challenge, explained the immediate impact of a cancer diagnosis to The Borgen Project in an interview: “Cancer patients and their families lose control of their own independence and way of life instantaneously after the diagnosis.” A cancer diagnosis and the expensive, lengthy and often invasive treatment that is necessary after receiving a diagnosis places an immeasurable burden upon patients and their families.
Rogers mentions that the financial burden of cancer is life-changing: “Traditionally, one or both of a child’s parents are unable to work, which then changes the economic aspect of their environment immediately.” The economic burden of cancer is generally considered to be substantial across every country for both families and the countries themselves.
Income and productivity loss, as well as the high expenses associated with cancer-related health care costs, leave a profound impact on individuals and their communities at all levels. Paying for medical bills and expensive treatments can often lead to asset depletion, in which patients and their families have to use their financial savings to pay for cancer-related costs as well as necessities, according to the American Cancer Society study.
In countries with smaller populations and domestic economies, the total economic toll of cancer is so large that among 188 countries surveyed by the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 90 countries have lost more than 1% of their GDP to deaths and disability caused by cancer, according to the same study.
In many cases, including Australia, the economic burden that cancer imposes upon individuals and their families is financially crippling. Nonprofit organizations and charities such as Challenge prioritize alleviating this burden for patients and families by assisting them with medical bills and hospital costs. People that cancer affects often have to rely upon these organizations in order to deal with the overwhelming financial changes associated with their disease.
David Rogers describes the approach that Challenge takes: “We meet with children in the hospital when they are first diagnosed and from there we create an individualized program for each family and their needs.” Challenge addresses these needs and is supporting families experiencing cancer in a multitude of ways, including financial assistance, support groups, personalized therapy, hospital activity days, academic scholarships and more.
The Emotional Toll
Individuals and families impacted by cancer must simultaneously grapple with financial hardship as well as significant emotional distress. Globally, the psychosocial distress that cancer patients and their families endure often has poor understanding. Psychosocial costs, also referred to as quality of life costs, account for the anxiety, psychological distress, pain and suffering associated with cancer.
Worldwide, there is a growing effort to emphasize the importance of psychosocial care for cancer patients, which encompasses care including therapy, stress management and activities that promote self-worth and social participation. Activities of this nature promote overall well-being and reduce emotional distress for individuals living with cancer.
Challenge is supporting families experiencing cancer by providing numerous emotional and social support programs for this purpose, ranging from music and art therapy programs to specialized support groups. Children with cancer are unable to understand the complexities of their diagnosis, as well as the immense financial and emotional toll that it places upon their parents. Psychosocial support alleviates this burden and helps reduce the pain and suffering experienced by all people involved.
When describing Challenge, Rogers explains that “We have established an organization that successfully delivers help to people and families that need it. This is not a club that you want to be involved in, it’s a club that you become involved in because of your situation.” Organizations such as Challenge work to tackle the hardships that affect individuals and families living with cancer.
Nonprofits and charities that offer financial assistance and psychosocial support to cancer patients seeking help are sometimes the only resources that people can rely upon in order to mitigate the socioeconomic and psychological burden that cancer imposes upon their lives.
– Dylan Priday