Patient-to-Patient Telephone Support Makes the Difference

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By Mary Brolley, Excerpted from Network Newsletter, Summer 2010

Anderson Network Support LineIn a preparatory meeting before surgery to insert his chemotherapy port, the middle-aged man had become agitated, then had burst into tears and said, "I'm going to die anyway. Why should I do this?"

Sarabia Cerda, a physician assistant in MD Anderson's Department of Surgery, remembered the Anderson Network Patient and Caregiver Telephone Support Line, which connects patients with survivors who share their diagnosis, and, if possible, treatment history.

She called Sam Short, senior administrative assistant for the Anderson Network, a patient and caregiver support organization. Short quickly searched the database of nearly 1,200 telephone support volunteers to find one with a similar diagnosis and treatment plan.

Within 15 minutes, Sarabia Cerda recalls, the patient's cell phone rang. On the other side of the line was a Tennessee man who had survived the same diagnosis, metastasis and surgery.

The men spoke for several minutes, then the reassured patient decided to go ahead with surgery. More than a year later, he is doing well.

"He was a tough guy, but he was frightened and desperate. We (health care professionals) are sympathetic, but we haven't walked in patients' shoes," Sarabia Cerda says. "It was great to be able to connect him with someone who understood exactly what he was feeling."

Bridging the gap to share expertise

The support line is among Anderson Network's most successful programs. Since 1986, it has linked more than 20,000 patients nationwide. Callers and volunteers are welcome, no matter where they received or are receiving treatment.

Its aim -- to connect those at different stages of the cancer journey so they can tap into each others' experiences -- bridges the gap between patients who might not otherwise meet. It's also available to caregivers who'd like to speak with another caregiver of a patient similar to their own loved one. There is also a separate database of and for pediatric caregivers.

To be connected with another caregiver or survivor, call 800-345-6324 or 713-792-2553, or visit the Anderson Network links in the Resources tab.

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