Forty-five-year-old Andrew was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer. He is angry, scared, anxious, and embarrassed. He doesn't want to open up to his spouse as he fears overwhelming her with his emotions.
His buddies at work wouldn't expect him to open up about his cancer diagnosis when they typically just discuss football. Andrew would turn to his parents but his mother already worries enough. Andrew wants to know what he will feel like after his first round of chemotherapy. He wants to know if he will be able to work throughout treatment or continue to coach his son's little league team. Will he feel claustrophobic during every CT scan or will he get use to it? Will he lose his sex drive completely?
There are a handful of telephone-based programs that offer one-on-one cancer support to people just like Andrew. These groups carefully match a person touched by cancer with someone who has survived a similar diagnosis. Many of these networks also offer caregiver matches.
Organizations of this nature, such as Imerman Angels, are founded on the premise that no one should ever have to fight cancer alone. Other popular programs include the Cancer Hope Network, the Anderson Network, and The Bloch Foundation Cancer Hotline. These programs are becoming increasingly popular and research is supporting their effectiveness.
In 2011, The European Journal of Cancer Care published a study that examined the preferred methods of peer support amongst Australians with colorectal cancer. This study, comprised of 53 people, showed favorable results for one-on-one telephone peer-support programs. Sixty-eight percent of the participants reported that they would like a one-on-one format for peer support and over half of the participants noted that they would like the support through the telephone.1
Study participants acknowledged a wide variety of positive aspects involved in telephone support. Participants reported that telephone support can cater to different support needs and is perceived to be private, safer, and less daunting. Most importantly, telephone support overcomes travel difficulties due to geography, illness, or physical condition.1 Overall, every support participant indicated that they would recommend telephone support programs to others.
The gynecological oncology department of a London cancer center created a peer-support program called "Women Helping Women." The purpose of this program was to provide women who were receiving or had recently completed treatment for gynecological cancers with the opportunity to speak with someone who had previously been in their shoes, whom the researchers dubbed as peer supporters.2
The support was delivered weekly via telephone for over three months. The patients were matched with peer supporters based on similarity in treatment, age, family status, and preferences specified by patients. Twenty-four patients comprised the study sample and the majority of women described only positive benefits of receiving peer support. The benefits discussed by participants included decreased isolation, increased hope, a channel to process emotions, and making sense of one's experience.2
What has been your experience with one-on-one support for cancer patients through peer-matching programs?
- Ieropoli, S. C., White, V. M., Jefford, M., & Akkerman, D. (2011). What models of peer support do people with colorectal cancer prefer?. European Journal of Cancer Care, 20, 455-465.
- Pistrang, N., Jay, Z., Gessler, S., & Barker, C. (2011). Telephone peer support for women with gynecological cancer: recipients' perspectives. Psych-Oncology, 21, 1082-1090.