May 15, 2009

Support program connects cancer patients, survivors

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JoGale Ray is a volunteer with the new Hope Connection telephone support program for cancer patients. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Support program connects cancer patients, survivors

Coping with a cancer diagnosis can be a scary and emotional ordeal. Time spent in doctors' offices, chemotherapy chairs and radiation suites often reinforces feelings of loneliness for cancer patients and their families.

So Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center has launched the Hope Connection, a free confidential support program for adult cancer patients and their families. The Hope Connection provides one-to-one telephone support from caring, compassionate volunteers who have personally experienced the challenges and complex issues of a cancer diagnosis. The volunteers are cancer survivors and caregivers who are willing to listen, provide guidance and offer support before, during and after cancer treatment.

“Patients and their families have been telling us that they need more emotional and personal support as they move through the cancer journey,” said Jane Kennedy, manager of Patient Advocacy for Vanderbilt-Ingram. “At the same time, many survivors and caregivers want to help someone else going through this experience. By providing encouragement, guidance and coping strategies, the volunteers help individuals reduce their fear and uncertainty.”

To date, 24 Hope Connection volunteers have been trained to provide telephone support to any patient or family member who wants to connect with someone who has been there. Individuals are matched with volunteers who have experience with the same type of cancer or medical issue.

Kelly Owens knows firsthand what it's like to need information and support from another cancer survivor. The former thyroid and breast cancer patient was offered a similar support program after her initial diagnosis in 2002.

“I found it very helpful because they told me things the doctors and the literature didn't include,” said Owens, medical social worker in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Stem Cell Transplant Clinic. “This gives me a chance to give back what was given to me several years ago and I am very excited about it.”

Volunteers must be 18 or older and at least one year past treatment. They are asked to make a minimum one-year commitment to the program. Volunteers will undergo a criminal background check and must complete training to prepare them for their peer support role.

The Hope Connection program does not take the place of the care and support patients get from their medical team. Volunteers help individuals reduce fears, strengthen their ability to cope, and feel more prepared for treatment and decision-making.

For more information, or referrals, please call 936-8501, or e-mail Visit for additional program or volunteer information.