Has it really been six years since this card from Cancer Hope Network arrived in my mailbox? Yes, it has and yes, I continue my work as a CHN volunteer.
Back in 2005 I was upset. I knew the statistics about women diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. I knew that Gilda Radner died from that disease. I knew the disease was relatively rare, roughly 700 women diagnosed in NJ a year. That is why I didn’t meet any women in my cancer center with the disease while I was in treatment. At the time all I wanted to do was talk to someone who had the disease and lived. When I saw a brochure for Cancer Hope Network in the waiting room, I picked it up and brought it home. I hesitated at first to call. I’m not too keen on cold calling someone. But one afternoon as I sat in bed I went ahead and called. I told the person who answered that I just needed to talk to someone who had been in my situation and lived. She took all my information and said she would call back when she had a match. The very next day she called and said she could connect me right then and there with a volunteer. I spent the next half hour talking to a woman diagnosed with stage 3b serous ovarian cancer, lived in my state, received the same chemotherapy and surgery and was a 5 year survivor. It was wonderful. I was not alone. I could survive too!
When I was out of treatment one year, I called Cancer Hope Network and said I wanted to be one of their support volunteers. I attended training and within a few weeks I was talking to other women with ovarian cancer. I did take a break when I recurred and was in treatment but once treatment was done I was back on the phone. I have not had to pause my volunteer work since 2009 except for fun reasons like being on vacation.
Over the past 13 years, I have spoken to women diagnosed with ovarian cancer from NYC, Florida, California, Indiana, Texas, Kentucky and Kansas, just to name a few. Since I have taken part in a few different clinical trials, I have also been matched with women who may not have ovarian cancer but are considering a clinical trial. Some of the women I speak to are treated at the top cancer centers in the country and others are treated at small community cancer centers. I have talked to women who are a short ride from their doctor, those who drive eight hours to appointments and some who travel by plane and stay at hotels. During the past few years, I not only talked to women on the phone but have kept in touch monthly with women via e-mail.
Since the spring of 2020, my discussions with women have also included the impact Covid -19 has had on their treatment. Many have bravely continued attending their treatments by themselves since caregivers were not allowed to accompany them. Others have had follow-up appointments using telemedicine video calls. Very few of the women I spoke to, although fearful of contracting Covid-19, postponed their treatments for that reason. Many are looking forward to being vaccinated if they have not already been. But no matter what we talk about in our calls or emails when I say “I felt that way too” the reply is the same “thank goodness I thought it was just me.”