The AiRS Foundation’s primary goal is to provide women who have had mastectomies due to breast cancer the option to receive reconstructive surgery. This is no small task. There are very few organizations who help women after they’ve survived breast cancer, so we at the AiRS Foundation often have a lot of patients to assist. Yet, despite the demand, we’re still able to answer every phone call, email, and grant application in a timely and personal manner. How? Through the help of our patient advocates.
The patient advocacy program is at the heart of the AiRS Foundation.
So says Tamara Sieger, the director of the patient advocacy program. And she should know — Tamara responsible for training and recruiting our volunteers, working closely with grant recipients and advocates to ensure that every breast cancer survivor who wants reconstruction after a mastectomy has that option.
The AiRS Foundation receives grant applications (http://airsfoundation.org/apply-for-grant/) and inquiries from women all over the U.S. who would like to learn more about breast reconstruction. Initially, we gather information from these patients, answer their questions, and review their applications. If a patient qualifies for a grant for breast reconstruction, we then refer her to a patient advocate (http://airsfoundation.org/make-a-difference/volunteer/).
The advocate is a trained volunteer who walks alongside the patient, we assist patients with navigating the often overwhelming healthcare system, answering her questions about what can often be a complicated and frustrating procedure, and supporting her emotionally through the entire process of breast reconstruction. In other words, the advocate is there for the patient through thick and thin.
Who are the patient advocates?
Patient advocates are individuals from all across the U.S. who volunteer their time to help AiRS’ clients as they go through breast reconstruction. Many of our advocates have battled breast cancer themselves, often undergoing mastectomies and reconstruction. Some of our advocates have had loved ones battle cancer and are familiar with what it’s like. Still, others have no firsthand experience with breast cancer, but simply want to give back in a meaningful way.
All of our advocates have one thing in common: they are compassionate.
Moreover, they are often good at listening and solving problems. Some of them take on multiple patients at once, others take on one patient at a time. Being an advocate is flexible — each advocate decides how much she can take on at one time. Most of their work is completed long distance, over phone calls, emails, and text messages.
Is it hard to be a patient advocate?
The short answer: no! Becoming a patient advocate is straightforward. Tamara trains all of our advocates through a video training program, which means a new volunteer can go through the training in the comfort of his or her home. The AiRS staff is also here to answer any questions and walk you through how to handle tough situations with our patients, which do come up. Our advocates don’t need previous experience with breast cancer, only a willingness to spend their time helping women.
Patient advocacy is a rare volunteer opportunity (http://airsfoundation.org/make-a-difference/) to see the direct impact of your efforts on an individual’s life. Many of our patients have wanted reconstruction for years, but did not think they could ever afford it. Breast cancer is unique because it’s an emotionally driven disease that often affects a woman’s identity. When a woman who has had a mastectomy looks in the mirror to see herself disfigured, she often becomes depressed, paralyzed, and unmotivated. Mastectomies can take a large emotional toll on a woman, and walking through this process of healing with her can be highly rewarding.
Indeed, our patients often say they are eternally grateful to their advocates. Don’t take it from us. Here are some of the responses we’ve heard from patients to their advocates:
You were my angel here on earth.
You saved my life.
Because of you, I want to help someone else.
How you can help!
We are always in need of more patient advocates. Whether you’ve experienced the difficulty of breast cancer first hand and want to share your expertise with other women or have no experience, but simply want to help, we would love for you to consider becoming a patient advocate. Our advocates play a vital role in helping women who have suffered from mastectomies due to breast cancer receive reconstruction. Contact us today for more information (http://airsfoundation.org/contact/)!