Finding a Cancer Buddy

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology, Social Work

FEBRUARY 19, 2021

Our families and friends love us and want to be supportive and helpful, but it can seem as though they just don’t get it. Sometimes the only person who can truly understand and empathize is someone else going through the same thing. Thirty-five years ago, I launched a program called Patient to Patient, Heart to Heart at BIDMC. At the time, there were no cancer buddy/peer support programs, and the idea was considered somewhat risky and radical. Several of my physician colleagues warned me that patients might scare one another or give poor medical advice. However, I had been convinced by one of my patients, a wonderful woman who was being treated for leukemia, that this service would be appreciated. She had come to my office one morning to say: You do a good job of most things, but there is no way for patients to find one another. She was right, and a new program was born.

Sometimes the only person who can truly understand and empathize is someone else going through the same thing.

We began by recruiting about a dozen people – men and women with a range of cancer diagnoses and experiences. Training was for several hours on six successive Tuesday evenings and was focused on listening, supporting and boundaries; in some ways, it was Social Work 101. These first volunteers were joined over the years by dozens more, and I know that the connections and relationships forged by pairs of people with the same diagnosis were invaluable.

As time passed, our program evolved into having volunteers, all cancer survivors who had been received chemotherapy at our hospital, onsite daily in the chemotherapy infusion area and in Radiation Oncology. Some of you who are reading this may have met some of these wonderful people who, unfortunately, have not been able to be present during the pandemic.

There are now many national programs established to make these personal connections. This list was compiled by a colleague, Christina Bach, in Pennsylvania. Consider reaching out to find your buddy. Or, if you are past treatment, consider reaching out to volunteer to help someone else.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

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