We are not cisterns made for hoarding, we are channels made for sharing. Billy Graham
Sharing my story with other cancer patients/survivors is the most effective way I've found to give back for all the support I received when I felt alone. That's why I'm a big fan of the Cancer Hope Network and proud to work with them as a trained support volunteer.
The national, non-profit group was founded in 1981 by Diane Byrnes-Paul, whose uncle had cancer. After undergoing treatment, he told his niece that he wouldn't have suffered as much emotionally if he had been able to speak with someone who had survived a similar cancer experience. As an oncology nurse, Diane heard many other patients say the same thing. It struck her that only people who had the same cancer, treatments, side effects and survivorship issues could truly restore hope to despairing cancer patients/survivors.
Her idea evolved into Cancer Hope Network, a New Jersey-based, national organization providing one-on-one support to cancer patients/survivors and their families on a free and confidential basis. I am one of over 400 trained support volunteers, all of whom are cancer survivors.
Wanda Diak, Executive Director and a survivor herself, notes, “We find that the patients in most need of help are those recently diagnosed with cancer. At that point many people are overwhelmed by a wide range of emotions and concerns. The combination of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and side effects causes many to despair and become emotionally paralyzed. The opportunity to talk to someone who can truly relate not only provides immediate hope but also a sense of relief and knowledge that they, too, can get through treatment and start living life to its fullest.”
The strength of Cancer Hope Network is the customized support callers receive. When a patient/survivor calls the toll-free number, he or she is interviewed. Their profile is then matched against the network's database of support volunteers based on:
- The type of cancer
- The treatment program
- The side effects
- The stage of cancer
- Various psychosocial factors, which include age, gender, marital status, whether children are involved, as well as the patient/survivor's level of understanding of the cancer experience, and
- The immediate concern of the patient/survivor.
The support volunteer most closely matched against the patient/survivor’s profile and immediate concerns is then asked to make contact by telephone. I made my first telephone call last week and spoke to a woman trying to decide whether to have a mastectomy or a third lumpectomy. We had a good conversation and I will call her back this week after she meets with a doctor for a second opinion. I know I helped her think through her options and feel less alone. And I also know that, just like the first time I reached out to help another cancer survivor, it was healing for me to be able to give back.
Cancer Hope Network is non-sectarian, non-denominational, and not affiliated with any religious, political, or commercial entity. It is funded totally by fund raising efforts. Cancer Hope Network's support volunteers do not endorse or recommend treatments, facilities, or physicians. In addition to emotional support and encouragement, they provide practical information, helpful hints, and methods for coping with their diagnosis, treatment and survivorship issues.
If you need someone to talk with, whether you are actively treating or out of treatment and struggling with survivorship issues, consider making a call to the Cancer Hope Network. You can call toll-free at (877) HOPENET or visit their website at www.cancerhopenetwork.org.