Breast Cancer Patient Survivor Advocate Program

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Dr. Lee Wilke is Director of the UW Health Breast Center.Madison, Wisconsin - When Vicki Schulenberg was diagnosed with breast cancer in July, 2013, it was like a bolt out of the blue.


"I absolutely fell apart," said Schulenberg. "A routine screening mammogram forever changed my life."


Schulenberg had no idea how her body would react to two surgeries and radiation and how her emotional health would be affected. Sensing her fear of the road ahead, Schulenberg's health care team referred her to the UW Health Breast Center's Patient Survivor Advocate Program (PSA).


The program is a "buddy system" that pairs patients with a trained breast cancer survivor volunteer to answer questions about managing a breast cancer diagnosis. The PSA program began operating in August, 2013.


"We found out through focus groups of breast cancer patients that they could use more support as they travel the breast cancer journey," said Terri White, UW Health Breast Center clinic manager.


White said that she has 14 trained volunteers. Another 10 women will be trained thanks to a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.


"The volunteers come from different backgrounds and experiences," noted White. "We try to closely match volunteers with patients who have similar family backgrounds, types of cancers and treatments and other things in common."


Schulenberg was matched with breast cancer survivor Michele Schroeder, who was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine screening mammogram in October 2010.


"I sought out other women who dealt with a breast cancer diagnosis," said Schroeder. "The level of support was very helpful and contributed to putting me in the best possible position to make decisions and to get through the experience."


Schulenberg and Schroeder began talking on the phone, emailing and texting a few times a week. Michele talked through a variety of issues with Vicki, putting her on stable footing to navigate her journey. Vicki says she was astounded by the PSA program and how much people cared for her.


"It saved my life," said Schulenberg.


For more information on the Patient Survivor Advocate Program, contact the UW Health Breast Center at (608) 266-6400 and ask for the patient navigator.

Date Published: 03/31/2014

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