Joe Lavalle, a Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Buddy Program volunteer.
The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Buddy Program matches patients diagnosed with prostate, breast and other types of cancer with survivors who have experienced the same or similar diagnoses, treatments and uncertainties. Their “survivor buddies” are cancer survivors ahead of them on the journey. Hope begins when a patient hears that someone treated for a similar diagnosis and now two, four or even 10 years outside of treatment is available to speak with by phone.
“Our more than 200 participating volunteer buddies are wonderful people who have chosen to give back and help others,” said Katherine (Kate) Rehm, MSW, LCSW, Clinical Social Worker, Department of Radiation Oncology, who has been the director of the 15-year-old program since 2008.
“They know what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer and to undergo treatment and about the transition to life after treatment. That’s an important conversation they can have with somebody unfamiliar with the experience.”
One such volunteer is Joe Lavalle, 56, an insurance adjuster from Essington, PA, who had successful robotic surgery for prostate cancer in 2014, and has been a buddy to several patients over the past year.
“It really makes me feel good to help others,” said Joe. “I give them information they can use, as well as comfort and hope. And, the self-worth and self-confidence I experience from helping them is amazing!”
Joe’s minimally invasive surgery was painless and his recovery easy – two weeks later, he was playing golf. After being cancer-free for nearly a year, Joe volunteered and attended training for the Buddy Program.
“Guys who have prostate cancer should be able to talk about it with guys who’ve had it,” he said1. “Some want to know what the surgery is like. Others are more concerned with associated urinary problems or erectile dysfunction. These are things they may be uncomfortable talking about with family and friends. They need someone who’s been there.”
The SKCC Buddy Program goes even further through its “Buddy-on-the-Spot” service. Volunteers are available to patients in the radiation treatment waiting area in the Bodine Pavilion and in the Infusion Center at 925 Chestnut Street to answer patients’ questions, provide support and companionship and listen to their concerns.
A cancer diagnosis also impacts those who care for and care about patients. So, our SKCC has also created the Caregiver Buddy Program to provide information and guidance to the patients’ support network — usually, family members.
Up at our Abington – Jefferson Health campus, patients and buddies can tap into the Buddy Program, too. Volunteers receive training at Jefferson’s Center City campus, and our patients at Abington Hospital are then matched up with their telephone buddies. In addition, The Rosenfeld Cancer Center at Abington – Jefferson Health offers a free “Reach to Recovery” program that provides peer support and education for women or men who are facing possible diagnosis of breast cancer. Road to Recovery volunteers are breast cancer survivors who have been trained by the American Cancer Society. Patients and volunteers meet face to face or by telephone.
“There are many anxieties that people and their loved ones have about the unknowns associated with cancer and undergoing treatment,” Kate said. “Our buddies, based on personal experience, can be companions for this journey. It’s the best support we can provide them. And that’s pretty cool!”
Are you a cancer survivor who would you like to volunteer for the Buddy Program, or do you know of someone with cancer who needs a buddy? Please contact Kate at 215-955-2881 or Katherine.Rehm@jefferson.edu.