Buddy system provides one-on-one support for UCI Health cancer patients

May 29, 2014
Bob Griffith, coordinator of the Buddy System and a stage IV melanoma survivor

A cancer diagnosis is staggering and for many, emotions range from fear and anger to sadness and depression.  While family members and friends are often quick to lend their support, most may not completely understand what it’s like to have cancer.  For some newly diagnosed, talking about their cancer to someone who has never had the disease is difficult.  The Buddy System at UCI Health provides one-on-one support for patients throughout their cancer treatment.

The Buddy System Program pairs up newly diagnosed cancer patients with volunteers, who are UCI Health cancer survivors.  A buddy is matched with a patient who has the same type of cancer and who is also similar in age.  By phone, the buddy and the patient connect which allows the patient an open and safe forum to share what they are thinking and feeling with someone who understands cancer from the inside, as few can. 

“It is rare that a patient can speak with a peer directly and honestly about their specific type of cancer and have the other person completely understand what they are going through,” says Bob Griffith, coordinator of the Buddy System and a stage IV melanoma survivor.  “This program provides our patients with emotional healing, which is extremely important when dealing with cancer.”

Peer-to-peer telephone support has been beneficial to Mindy Baker. The mother of five has stage III melanoma and is currently enrolled in a UCI Health clinical trial.  The treatment leaves Baker feeling constantly exhausted and she worries about her husband and the extra responsibilities he carries during her illness, about what the next scan will show, and when will life ever feel normal again. 

Baker is matched with Griffith and says his support and coaching is meaningful. 

“It’s been great to have Bob to talk to,” says Baker.  “He is a good listener and he lets me talk out all my concerns and fears about my cancer.  I can complain and not feel bad about it. Bob's own experience gives me insight and strength as does the amazing support and love from my family, friends and church.  I am thankful for Bob who has given me courage and confidence in my survival plan.” 

To volunteer, a buddy needs to have been treated at UC Irvine Medical Center.  After an application has been submitted, applicants are screened by UCI Health staff.  Buddies are provided training from social workers about how to coach patients but the rapport is based more on the wisdom and experiences the buddy has learned through their cancer journey.

A patient seeking a buddy can call 714-456-3989 and leave a message which pages Griffith.  From there, he provides the buddy with the patient’s contact information and the two are connected.

“With all the extensive medical and psychosocial treatment from our professional staff, including oncologists, nurses and social workers, patients can have a difficult time speaking openly about what they are going through,” says Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center oncology social worker Jennifer Higgins.  “The Buddy System facilitates a dialog for the emotional healing patients also need in addition to the medical care.”

For more information about the Buddy System, please call 714-456-3989. 

Photo: Patient Laurie Schwartz, left, with Buddy System coordinator and cancer survivor Bob Griffith. 

— Susan Thomas, UCI Health Marketing & Communications