As we settled into the reality that we passed the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC) of our breast program, we realized that there was untapped potential within the hospital volunteer service to help become ambassadors to other breast cancer patients.
Call it "paying it forward" for those who have gone on into survival status with gusto. In making goals for 2013 and within the context of expanding our program further, we decided to start a new, merged program of breast cancer survivors already working within the hospital and the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program. We are calling them Pink Ribbon Partners.
These women, of all ages, will visit patients in the hospital and offer the TLC that breast cancer patients seek: fluffing pillows, bringing gift bags with comfort items (camisoles, drain pouches, small pillows for the ride home), refreshing the coffee that may be too cold, or offering an extra blanket after having just come out of surgery. At one time, these may have been nursing care strategies, but to have someone with the empathy of going through the same diagnosis and treatment could be invaluable.
According to the American Cancer Society literature, talking with a specially trained Reach to Recovery volunteer can give a measure of comfort and an opportunity for emotional grounding and informed decision making. Volunteers are breast cancer survivors who give patients and family members an opportunity to express feelings, talk about fears and concerns, and ask questions of someone who is knowledgeable and level-headed. Most importantly, Reach to Recovery volunteers offer understanding, support, and hope because they themselves have survived breast cancer and gone on to live normal, productive lives.1
The program works by offering face-to-face visits or by phone. The Reach to Recovery support staff volunteers give support for:
- People recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
- People facing a possible diagnosis of breast cancer.
- Those interested in or who have undergone a lumpectomy or mastectomy.
- Those considering breast reconstruction.
- Those who have lymphedema.
- Those who are undergoing or who have completed treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- People facing breast cancer recurrence or metastasis.
Volunteers are trained to give support and up-to-date information, including literature for spouses, children, friends, and other loved ones. Volunteers can also, when appropriate, provide breast cancer patients with a temporary breast form and information on types of permanent prostheses, as well as lists of where those items are available within a patient's community. No products are endorsed.
We are going to roll out this new merged volunteer orientation in May and have already had an interest from two patients whose diagnosis and treatment is completed, and from our existing volunteer pool who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer and completed treatment. Our first volunteer is 87 years old with both a history of breast and ovarian cancer. "Got to keep going," she said. "There is no point sitting around when there are others to help." It is her spirit of giving that should make this new program successful. Again, we all take pause at another great opportunity for excellent breast cancer care of the hospitalized patient.