Cancer Survivor Gives Back by Lending an Ear, Providing Comfort

Brielle Urciuoli

For many cancer survivors, the thought of returning to their cancer clinic after treatment ends may be off-putting, as it could bring up difficult memories. But Arleen Weitz could not wait to get back into the infusion center at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC), Jefferson Health to do some good.

“I’m there whenever I have free time,” Weitz said in an interview with CURE at the SKCC Cancer Support and Welcome Center One-Year celebration. “I talk to patients and try to keep them company and get them whatever I can to make them comfortable while their doctors and nurses are busy doing important medical procedures.”

Weitz volunteers the SKCC infusion center, through its Buddy Support Program, where she helps make patients’ experiences more comfortable. That could be done through a conversation about local news or by simply finding them a blanket when they feel chilly.

“When I’m actually over at the infusion center and I’m talking to patients, we rarely talk about cancer,” Weitz said. “It’s usually something very light-hearted. We talk about sports or current events – all kinds of things – but usually not cancer.”

The Buddy Support Program was established in 2008 and matches patients with survivors who have had a similar cancer diagnosis or treatment regimen. The program extends after hours, too. Even after patients leave, volunteers such as Weitz will give them a ring on the phone to see how they’re feeling, and if they have any questions or concerns.

“It’s just nice to be able to share your experiences with other people, and the fact that the patients know that I’m a survivor can be very inspiring to them,” she said. “Whatever gives people hope is a positive thing.”

Not too long ago, roles were reversed, and Weitz was the one looking for inspiration on her cancer journey. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and received surgery followed by six months of chemotherapy treatments at SKCC.  

“When I finished, I just wanted to give back,” she said.

Participants in the Buddy Support Program will often stay in touch even after their treatments have ended, Weitz said, explaining that there are plenty of life changes that come with cancer survivorship, too, leaving patients asking: What do I do now?

“As every cancer patient knows, you’re consumed with doctor visits and tests and treatments. This is a non-stop thing for however long your course of treatment is. Help transitioning back into regular life can be helpful,” she said.

Guidance through this post-cancer phase is crucial. Despite the fact that the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) published guidelines specifically relating to survivorship care, many people are still missing out and not being guided through this stage, according to recent research conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.  

Weitz said that simply meeting up for coffee and conversation can help to ease many of these feelings of anxiety.

“That’s what it’s all about sometimes – just wanting to talk,” she said. “Just lending an ear can be very helpful.”
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