The Anderson Network, A Program of Volunteer Services
From: The Anderson Network
Date: January 15, 2008
Narrator: As individuals, we connect to share our joy ...and to ease our pain. Being told that you have cancer can be a lonely place, but you are not alone. The Anderson Network creates a bridge to others, whose lives have been touched by cancer. Where powerful bonds can be forged and nurtured, so, that your cancer journey is not travelled alone.
The Anderson Network is a unique support group made up of over 1500 volunteers who are current and former cancer patients. It is part of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson's Department of Volunteer Services. Where an additional 1600 volunteers joined them. Offering strength in numbers to sustain you through difficult times. The Anderson Network represents a vast number of programs designed to provide personalized support to cancer patients everywhere and their families.
The Patient and Caregiver Support Line matches cancer patients from all over the world with someone who has had a similar diagnosis or treatment. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma right after giving birth to her first child, Mary was told she probably wouldn't have any more children due to her treatments. After her first-born, she adopted then became pregnant again, giving birth to a son. Mary provides phone support to patients with her diagnosis and to women with cancer who are pregnant.
Mary: You get a good feeling that you made somebody more comfortable maybe, or just feel better, about the overall situation, it's bad, you know, to begin with, then to know somebody who's come out of that in a similar situation makes them feel a lot better.
Narrator: Bill was encouraged to start volunteering by a fellow pancreatic cancer patient he met through the Anderson Network Support Line. He now helps other patients undergoing radiation therapy at one of M.D. Anderson's outreach facilities.
Bill: We've been at the same place, you know, we've gone, kind of gone through the same things and we just try to make their day a little easier and that's the main thing, it's just to, maybe give them a little laugh or something.
Narrator: Sometimes needed support is delivered online through the Anderson Network's WarmNet. WarmNet is a subscription-based e-mail distribution list that enables cancer patients and caregivers to communicate from the comfort of their own homes. Pat enjoys supporting fellow patients alongside her husband Roger in the Anderson Network Hospitality Center located in the Mays Clinic at M.D. Anderson.
Pat: It helps me to be able to help other people and to listen to their fears and try to alleviate their fears because I have them too. And then there are people who, you know, who have done the same thing for me and it's important to me to give that back.
Roger: What we mostly, just talk to folks who come in and who are looking for a place to sit down and relax and have a cup of coffee, or some juice and cookie. Then, it's not all heavy-duty conversation either, some of it just fun and good times and just relaxation just like with a buddy down the street.
Narrator: A second hospitality center is located in the main building for patients and their families. Suzanne is a breast cancer survivor. While on the job at M.D. Anderson, she found she was wearing two hats, one as employee, one as survivor. It was Suzanne's inspiration to start an employee support group.
Suzanne: People feel I think that they have that shared bond, not just of the cancer experience but of being an employee and having, walking the halls as a cancer survivor and seeing patients and family members and knowing you were there or are there. I mean that's a very special, personal intimate kind of thing actually.
Narrator: Suzanne's first experience upon moving to Houston was attending the Anderson Network's Annual Conference.
Suzanne: To be in that room where people were so celebrating survivorship in such a glorious way and people had come from all over the country to the conference just for that purpose. Just very, very inspiring.
Billie: And we all have something in common, we have a birthday, we celebrate that we have lived another year, we have survived and we have enjoyed the year. And we'd tell each other that and we hug and we become friends and we look forward to seeing each other every year at this conference.
Narrator: Elaine lost her husband Vince to cancer.
Elaine: The chances of survival with lung cancer were not good, when we, you know, were first diagnosed and I say 'we,' because I always think of it, it was 'our' diagnosis together, it wasn't just his. He went through the treatment and everything, but it was, it affects the whole family. It's not just the patient.
Narrator: Life dealt Elaine another blow when her son Vince, Jr. was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Vince: I was under the impression that life as I knew it before is coming to an end. And now, looking back, had the opportunity existed where I could have spoken to someone to help me, it would have made my journey a little bit easier.
Narrator: Vince is now an Anderson Network Volunteer following in his father's footsteps. After being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Bill sought out Steve Thorney and together, they formed a Men's Only Cancer Support Group.
Bill: You hear men talk about issues that you would not suspect that men in a group would talk about and the cancer issues are so tender to talk about. That I can talk about, yes, I've had this treatment, that treatment, that treatment and then they ask me about what holds you together. And then there's a magic word called Hope.
Steve: There's kind of a pecking order that men get into and we often define ourselves by what we are rather than who we are. And so, learning that language of who we are and unabashedly being able to share that and explore those areas, I think it's just enormously valuable.
Narrator: While undergoing treatment for breast cancer, Marilyn decided to go to Camp Carefree, a three day camp for adult M.D. Anderson patients made possible by the Anderson Network. It's full of fun activities, including the challenge wall.
Marilyn: Even though you're weak and the chemo have you feeling weak and dragging, you can still, it gives you that, "Oh my gosh! I can do this, so I'm not at all weak and falling apart."
Narrator: Everyone involved in Camp Carefree including the counselors are cancer survivors. Marilyn went back two more times as a counselor.
Marilyn: So, we are an example of survivorship for them. They can actually look at us and say, "Oh gosh! She's been out five years. He's been out ten years, so, that gives me hope that I can survive this."
Narrator: Sometimes even just a day away to nearby attractions in and around Houston is just what the doctor ordered. The Anderson Network provides the means to do it. Many Anderson Network Programs are open to all. Some are exclusively for M.D. Anderson patients, but the important thing to remember is that anyone can receive support from the Anderson Network. You do not have to be a patient at M.D. Anderson.
Billie: The Anderson Network just opens up a whole new world.
Suzanne: It's wonderful to know that you can give somebody that bit of hope that maybe they don't realize.
Pat: And it's important to me to be able to connect with other people to give me strength as well as them, I hope.
Steve: It's about love and relationships and caring for each other.
Bill: You reach out to them, they reach out to you. It's quite amazing.