For Patients in Treatment, a Coach Who "Gets It"

Friday, July 21, 2017 - 10:42am

Despite having supportive family and friends, patients may find that it’s tough to discuss some aspects of cancer, both physical and emotional, with someone who has not been through the same struggles. Not being able to communicate your anxieties or get answers to certain questions can feel isolating.

“When I was diagnosed, it felt like being in a foreign country where I didn’t know the language. We help people get through that,” says a volunteer with the Cancer Coach program at Roswell Park. The program matches patients with people who have survived a similar diagnosis and experience, to help them find their way through this new and difficult territory.

A cancer coach can provide a unique level of empathy and understanding by sharing their own experiences. They also give patients a valuable outlet and source of comfort by being available to listen and answer non-medical questions. “Our cancer coaches are an active community of supportive, caring survivors,” says Megan Battaglia, head of Roswell Park’s Patient Education Department. “They offer a new avenue of hope.”

Recently Battaglia was approached by Hillary Ruchlin, Executive Director of the Cancer Wellness Center of Western New York, who helped create and run the Cancer Coach program and who has worked with Roswell Park’s Patient Education Department for years. Nearing retirement, Ruchlin wanted the strong connections and positive relationships between coaches and patients to continue, so she asked Battaglia to take over the Cancer Coach program.

Many longtime coaches will stay with the program now that it has transferred to Roswell Park, and the Patient Education staff are training more Roswell Park volunteers to become cancer coaches. You do not have to be a Roswell Park patient to participate.

The program’s new home base will be The Resource Center for Patients and Families, located in the Sunflower Café on the first floor of the hospital, near the cash registers. The Resource Center offers patient education materials, wigs and head coverings, and a warm welcome for anyone fighting cancer. “This is a great opportunity for patients and caregivers to make personal connections with the Resource Center staff, who can help them throughout treatment and survivorship,” says Battaglia.

Whether you’re a patient, the loved one of a patient, or a caregiver, you can sign up to take part in the Cancer Coach program by visiting the Resource Center or calling 716-845-8659. A member of the program will ask you about your diagnosis and some of your preferences, to help match you with a coach. Questions may include:

  • Do you prefer speaking with a male or female?
  • Would you prefer to speak with someone approximately your age?
  • Would you like your coach to check in with you, or would you rather initiate the conversations?
  • Do you want to speak with your coach on the phone, via email, or in person?

Talking with someone who has been through an experience like yours can help you move forward with more knowledge, less fear and an important, unique source of support.

For more information about the Cancer Coach program, please call 716-845-8659.

This article was provided by Roswell Park’s Patient Education Department. Questions or comments? Please call 716-845-8784.