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Survivor Volunteer Program Provides Support for Newly Diagnosed Patients

Survivor Volunteer Program Provides Support for Newly Diagnosed Patients

BALTIMORE—Women undergoing breast cancer treatment at the Johns
Hopkins Breast Center receive extensive emotional support from breast cancer
survivor volunteers, thanks to an ongoing program there. Lillie Shockney,
RN, MAS, director of education and outreach, described the development and
implementation of the program at a poster session at the Oncology Nursing
Society’s 26th Annual Congress.

The program began in 1998 after a group of breast cancer survivors
expressed interest in volunteering and assisting other patients. Today, the
program has a network of more than 70 members who perform a wide range of
patient support activities and community outreach.

The initiative that patients find most beneficial, Ms. Schockney said, is
called Survivors Helping Survivors. Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients
are matched with a survivor volunteer who provides emotional support
throughout the treatment process—and well beyond if the patient desires.
Patients with a specific treatment plan are matched with a survivor who has
undergone the same treatment.

Volunteers also may participate in other special projects designed to
make the treatment experience less traumatic. In one project, volunteers
prepare gift bags and baskets filled with feminine products, such as bubble
bath, body lotions, aroma therapy, poetry books, mastectomy supplies, and
gift certificates for flowers, makeovers, and cosmetics. Patients receive
their baskets in the recovery room immediately after surgery.

Other activities that volunteers may choose to participate in include
community breast health and breast cancer awareness programs,
activist/lobbyist efforts, fundraising, and staffing the survivor hotline.

Ms. Shockney’s presentation outlined the necessary ingredients for
establishing a similar program. A successful launch of a survivor volunteer
program, she said, requires an institutional blessing, input from nurses and
social workers on patients’ needs, a survey of patients concerning their
perceived needs, and the selection of a nurse/survivor leader to oversee the

The nurse-survivor leader is responsible for determining the
responsibilities of volunteers and for making assignments. Volunteers, in
turn, agree to adhere to established policies and procedures, attend
quarterly volunteer dinner meetings, track and record monthly volunteer
hours accrued, maintain strict patient confidentiality, offer no medical
advice (refer patient back to health care team), and perform specific tasks
and functions within the designated time frame (such as contacting patients
within 24 hours of referral and committing to stay in touch at regular


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