Since 2006, the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s peer mentor program has linked thousands of cancer patients with survivors who wish to give back.

The mentoring program started informally 25 years ago, according to DBCC program director Cathy Scott Holloway.

About 10 years ago, official training for the program began, matching breast cancer survivors with those newly diagnosed, rediagnosed, or undergoing treatment.

Holloway said the volunteers who step forward to participate are survivors who wish to pay it forward.

“Many of the mentors we have were mentored themselves when they were going through their treatment, so it’s very common to see them have a good experience and then return to us,” Holloway said.

Since DBCC started working with mentors in 2006, the program has trained 360 peer mentors, with 294 active mentors statewide, and has served over 2,000 women and men diagnosed with breast cancer, Holloway said.

Holloway said the program works based on research that emphasizes the importance of having emotional support when going through a diagnosis like breast cancer, providing answers to questions from people who have never experienced

“It complements the medical care people are getting, and gives them an opportunity to talk to someone who went through something similar, whether it’s treatment or surgeries – someone who can empathize and offer ideas and suggestions or tips on how they handled certain situations or side effects,” Holloway said.

Mentors receive four hours of training covering basic listening skills along with information that mentors shouldn’t provide, like medical advice.

“It’s a refresher course,” Holloway said. “If you become a mentor, you need to be aware that while you will share your story and wisdom, it’s as appropriate. But right now, you’re in the position to be listening.”

She said the program has been very successful, with administrators receiving positive feedback from both sides, and training sessions scheduled twice a year in each county.

“We’ve never had a problem finding mentors – many people come back,” she said. “We also get referrals from doctors and others, and we maintain a list of people.”

For more information on the peer mentor program, call (302) 778-1102 or see the website, www.debreastcancer.org.