When most people think about cancer, its treatment, and its side effects, the first symptom that comes to mind probably isn't isolation. But many women face extreme isolation during cancer treatment. Even if a woman enjoys a supportive network of family and friends, meeting someone who has undergone the same kind of experience can be an important source of encouragement and help.
OHSU's Woman to Woman program matches women who have gynecologic cancer with mentors—trained volunteers who provide individual support, education and guidance as needed. Now in its third year, this free program pairs up newly-diagnosed women with ovarian cancer with other women who have been through the treatment and recovery experience. The program will soon expand to serve women with endometrial and cervical cancers, with the goal of eventually encompassing all gynecologic cancers.
What it takes to be a mentor
"You don't need to have been a patient at OHSU to serve as a mentor," says Lisa Egan, clinical physician assistant and coordinator of OHSU's Woman to Woman program. Women interested in being mentors go through a group training session, offered up to twice per year. The training reviews the science behind the disease (including the latest treatment news) as well as instruction on how to best provide empathy and support. Would-be mentors also undergo OHSU volunteer training, which allows access to areas throughout OHSU and ensures a higher level of safety and security for both mentor and patient.
Mentorship means different things to different women;the program is very flexible –based on individual patient wants and needs. "Some women might want to talk once a week, or get a weekly text. Others want to meet for coffee and a two-hour bonding conversation about what treatment might be like," Egan says. Also, mentorship may be more needed during a particular stage of cancer, whether that's diagnosis or the transition to survivorship, she adds.
OHSU's Woman to Woman program has trained eight mentors to date, and has made 10 connections in the past year. Already, Egan says, she is receiving positive feedback about the service. "Some patients say, 'I have someone who fully understands what I'm going through—and for the first time, I can laugh about cancer.' And mentors are enjoying giving back and finding their own healing process in helping others."
How to sign up
OHSU's Woman to Woman program is supported by an initial grant from the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance (OCRFA), and contributions are welcomed to sustain the work. Although mentors don't need to have been OHSU patients, they do need to be more than a year out from an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Learn more or make a donation.