BALTIMOREWomen 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 processand 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 program.
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 intervals).