Women's Health

The Importance of Mentorship in Breast Cancer

The Importance of Mentorship in Breast Cancer

Mentorship has been used for centuries for a variety of reasons, from training people in various work trades, to helping university students adjust, and helping people undergoing unique and complex situations cope. With a breast cancer diagnosis, mentoring has been a bright light in the darkness for many patients.

Breast cancer diagnosis can invoke a whirlwind of feelings that can feel near impossible to cope with at times. When people receive this diagnosis, their thoughts may flutter between what to do next regarding their own health, how to tell their family, how this will affect work, and how they are going to cope with the long battle ahead while juggling the other challenges and rewarding moments that come with life.

Mentorship can offer some guidance for people who are going through these changes.

How does mentorship for breast cancer start?

Breast cancer mentorship typically involves a breast cancer survivor mentoring someone who has been newly diagnosed. Usually the mentor has gone through some kind of training and preparation that will help her better support other women. Mentorship programs are typically done through breast cancer organizations that can support the mentor-mentee team through this process.

Many people are fortunate enough to have supportive families and friends who they can lean on during their battle with breast cancer. However sometimes people need something that friends and families cannot offer: a bit of objectivity and personal experience with breast cancer. This is where mentors come in.

Breast cancer mentors have already been through the diagnosis, the battle, and the other uncertainties and challenges that come with breast cancer. They have their own personal experiences to leverage when mentoring someone else. Additionally, while family members and friends are important to the healing process and mean well, often their support is rooted (understandably) in many emotions that can influence how they interact with and support their loved one who has been diagnosed. With a mentor, sure there may be emotions, but since this person is not a family or friend, she may be able to be a bit more objective when working with the mentee. A mentor is not a replacement for family members or friends.

A mentor is simply an addition to this support group, one who may overtime become a trusted friend and something like a family member. This has been the case with Olga Hughes.

 Olga’s story

Seven and a half years ago Olga was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a few days she met Betty Callender who would become not only her mentor, but also a lifelong friend. Betty is a 19-year breast cancer survivor and a mentor through the Susan G. Komen Faces of a Warrior Mentorship Foundation. The program was developed to help people facing breast cancer find hope, strength, and courage by building relationships with other people who have gone through the same thing. The Susan G. Komen Executive Director Sherri Martens Curtis explained that the mentorship classes begin every April and end in March. When the cycle ends, a new class begins. This enables people like Betty who has been a survivor for 19 years to link up with someone who is just starting out on the long and difficult breast cancer journey.

Mentorship is a relationship

Mentorship is not all serious talk and learning coping skills though. It really is a relationship where people can bond and engage in fun and unique activities together. Recently Olga and Betty were a part of a dolphin encounter at the Miami Seaquarium with 11 other breast cancer survivors. The Seaquarium has donated their time and resources to provide a space for breast cancer survivors to interact with the dolphins. They get a little bit of education and preparation and then they get to meet the dolphins. Their time spent together involves petting, feeding, and getting drenched through some splashing by the dolphins, and also each other. This enables them to have a fun and once in a lifetime experience with nature while being in the company of other women who have shared their journey.

Engaging in activities that are not related to their cancer experiences is important. It allows them to just be women enjoying time together without the reminder that they are battling or have battled this scary disease. They can just be themselves. Olga says that sharing this experience with her friend Betty has been incredibly meaningful. Of the mentorship and her friend Betty, Olga says that she values their relationship. Since Betty has been a breast cancer survivor much longer than her, Olga knows that she always has someone to reach out to. She knows that Betty is always just a text away.

Mentors benefit, too

Mentees are not the only people who benefit in the mentorship relationship. Being a mentor can be incredibly rewarding for breast cancer survivors as well. This allows them to take a negative experience and turn it into something positive and useful. Mentorship programs provide a foundation for survivors to give back to the breast cancer community. Betty sums up the mentoring relationship perfectly, “It’s all about giving back because no matter how good a relationship you have with your family, they haven’t been through it. When you’re with somebody that has been through that and knows what you’re going through, it means everything.” Betty has found immense worth and value in being a mentor. She loves that she has truly helped people. For her, it has been life changing too.

Mentors are there to be friends, guides, and sometimes just an open ear to women who are fighting breast cancer. They can share their own stories regarding diagnosis, treatment, and how they talked about all of it with their family. When someone who has been newly diagnosed and is juggling a thousand things at once, having this person to lean on can be invaluable.

There are many options available

If you or someone you know may be interested in a breast cancer mentorship program, either as a mentee or mentor, there are tons of options. The Young Survival Coalition offers one-on-one mentorship programs for women facing breast cancer. Their mentors come through a variety of backgrounds and have all received training through the peer mentorship program. They have mentors who were diagnosed at young ages in their early 20s as well as women who received chemotherapy during pregnancy. They work with you and listen to your personal stories to help you find the best mentor for you, or to help you become a mentor yourself.

Another option is After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (ABCD) and their free mentorship program. There is no pressure with this program. They help you find the perfect mentor or mentee match and your commitment can be as long as a lifetime or as short as couple conversations. Outside of the mentoring relationship, both parties receive support from the ABCD staff and medical team. Additionally, the program is flexible, allowing people to engage in the mentoring process from their computer. This can help lessen the stress that breast cancer patients already feel from having numerous appointments to attend. The only requirement they have for mentors is that they be one year past diagnosis. These are just two examples of programs available to people affected by breast cancer. If you are interested, don’t be afraid to shop around!