Pairing those affected by cancer, is the main focus of The Cancer Hope Network . It is a free and confidential mentor-mentee type relationship that supports individuals through the ups and downs that come with a cancer diagnosis. The Network is the first organization to provide one-onone support for cancer in the nation. The organization’s External Affairs Director, Sarah Cassidy says,” Each cancer diagnosis is special but not unique. When it happens to you, it is unique to you.” With the fear and anxiety that comes along with the unknown, such as cancer, a community will help to find guidance. Because of this, she explains, volunteers can empathize on a deeper level and can help guide their mentee during their treatment process.
Another point that Cassidy made was that “life doesn’t stop when cancer comes.” The organization strives to empower patients and give them the sense they are not alone on their journey, whenever that may be. For them, they will provide support at day one of diagnosis and 30 years into remission, for them you can begin support whenever you are ready. Cancer can be a battle and support can be lifelong. They cater to a larger support network that works together with other types of healthcare professionals such as social workers, medical providers, and nurses. They also work with other organizations such as the American Cancer Society.
Volunteers play a large part in the success of the Cancer Hope Network. They go through training processes to ensure they are offering proper support. Cassidy says, “there are typically two types of volunteers they see come through. One of which is someone that has gone through the Cancer Hope Network themselves and wants to give back. The other is someone who wasn’t aware of the program when they were going through their cancer diagnosis and now want to support others. “They are always looking for volunteers who want to help, are good listeners, and willing to give to someone in a dark space.”
Currently, the organization has a wide variety of patients and volunteers. Ages range from 23 to 94 with 80 different types of cancers represented. About 1,000 matches a year are made by the organization. “We are able to give a 98% match,” says Cassidy.
The Network believes they stand apart from other organizations based on the psychosocial factor that they use when placing pairs together. One example that stood out to Cassidy, was a patient who lost a limb to cancer. She was a teacher and wanted to find someone else that had, also, gone through the same circumstance of losing a limb. They were able to match her! Through it, she found the guidance to be able to address her young students about her condition in an age appropriate manner.
COVID-19 caused communication to become primarily virtual. Even with fewer donations coming in, due to the inability to fundraise, the Cancer Hope Network is still committed to finding support. A downside is that cancer causes individuals to be at a higher risk of the virus. Quarantining and social distancing protocols are causing less human interaction than previously, and the Cancer Hope Network has seen a 14% spike in sessions in response. Cassidy says, ‘With isolation due to quarantining, we are able to provide hope which is very powerful.”
One thing Cassidy wants is for those to be made aware of the organization. “A failure for us is when someone finds out too late and can’t get help when they need it.” If you or a loved one is hesitant, you are more than welcome to call and talk to see if the program is a good fit. “You will never be forced, “said Cassidy, “call whenever you are ready.”