ABCD Mentor Training Program Makes All The Difference
— 2Story Writer, Caitlin Moyer
December 14, 2021
Since ABCD was founded in 1999, almost 800 people from across the United States have completed ABCD’s Mentor Training Program in order to provide our signature service: delivering customized, one-to-one emotional support to breast cancer patients, caregivers, survivors, and people living with metastatic disease.
ABCD’s guiding principle is that everybody should feel supported as they face a breast cancer diagnosis and, for the last two decades, Mentors and staff have provided hope, guidance, compassion and comfort to over 101,000 individuals across all 50 states and in seven different countries.
Many of ABCD’s Mentors have experienced ABCD’s services firsthand, as past Participants in the program who want to give back. Some wish they had known about ABCD when going through their own treatment, and others are eager to provide emotional support to those in need.
But they all have gone through ABCD’s Mentor Training Program.
“We are very proud of our Mentor training program. It is the foundation of everything we do at ABCD,” shares Judy Mindin, Director of Program Services & Healthcare Partnerships.
Mentor Application Process
Breast cancer survivors, people living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), or family and friends who have served as caregivers can apply to be a Mentor.
ABCD has found that it takes at least one year after treatment for someone to adapt to their “new normal,” so in order to apply to be a Mentor, she/he (or their loved one) must be one year past their last treatment. This policy does not include people on hormonal therapy or people living with MBC.
The first step is a written application that is reviewed by Judy and her team internally, followed by two interviews conducted by an ABCD Mentor as well as a program team member to ensure a good fit for ABCD and the applicant.
“Mentors are the heart of ABCD and we are deeply committed to providing a positive volunteer experience for them right from the start,” adds Judy.
New Mentor Training
After the vetting process, applicants are invited to participate in one of ABCD’s two virtual new Mentor training programs, either in late spring or fall. Training is a 10-hour commitment over the course of four days. Applicants must attend all sessions in order to be eligible to begin mentoring. Each of the sessions are professionally designed, revised and updated as needed to ensure the highest quality of preparation.
The first day is a welcome reception and introductory conversation, which allows the group to become familiar not only with ABCD staff, but also one another. The next day is a full training session.
“We’re following a basic pattern as to what people need to know to become a good Mentor. We go through roles and responsibilities, communication and listening skills, applied communications, difficult conversations, and more ,” explains Judy. “We also emphasize that Mentors may not give medical advice. While they may share information about their own treatment and experiences, they may not give specific healthcare recommendations.”
Later that week, five seasoned Mentors hold an open panel discussion and Q&A. The final training session is Breast Cancer 101, a presentation by a healthcare provider who goes through the general information on the disease.
“We know we cover a lot in our training but we also know that it’s critical that our Mentors are prepared to provide the best emotional support possible,” Judy says. “We want this to be a positive experience for both the Mentor and the Participant.
Following the last session, the trainees are required to submit a detailed medical profile which is critical to the matching process. They also fill out a survey about the course itself as well as sign an annual memorandum of understanding, which clearly defines what the Mentor can expect from ABCD and what ABCD expects from the Mentor.
“I decided to become a Mentor because ABCD’s mission aligns very closely to my purpose in life of providing hope and nurturing confidence in others,” shares new Mentor Melodie Henderson when asked why she decided to train with ABCD in November 2021.
Once a trainee has completed training and submitted all of the paperwork, she or he is ready to be matched with a Participant as soon as their diagnosis, treatment, and life experiences align.
“The ABCD matching process is truly an art and science,” says ABCD Match Specialist Betsey Bryant. “When a Participant requests a match, the personal information, as well as the diagnosis and treatment, matters. Because our matching process is so personalized, we want to know how old they are, how many children they have, what their marital status is, what their hobbies and interests are. We also focus on what’s most important to the Participant so that we can find the very best Mentor to support them.”
Mentors can be matched with multiple Participants and matches vary in depth and length of time, depending on the Participant’s needs. Some matches consist of just a few text messages and a brief phone call. Others may be a couple of phone calls for a few weeks, or the relationship may last for a couple of months or even for a year or longer.
“Some Mentors and Participants may become lifelong friends,” Betsey says. “There really isn’t any set pattern to this. It just depends upon the individuals.”
And, while the organization is phone-based in its purpose, if the Mentor and Participant want to meet in person, that is up to them and they can certainly do so. “We have a number of Mentors who have driven or flown to be with their Participants for surgeries and treatment. So, it just depends upon the person on both sides,” Judy says.
Continuing Education for Mentors
ABCD is committed to supporting their Mentors at all times. They can regularly contact ABCD staff for support or help navigating a match, and/or suggestions on how to expand their support of their Participant.
In addition, every other month, Mentors are invited to a virtual Mentor Meet-up to connect with one another, share experiences and ask questions. With volunteers located across the country, these Zoom calls are a great way for people to connect with one another and stay up to date about ABCD.
Mentors can also participate in virtual continuing education programs featuring different health care professionals. For example, in November, Dr. Aaron Jonasen, a professional counselor in oncology services who is affiliated with ProHealth in Wisconsin, presented on how to deal with post-treatment emotions. And, in January, Dr Louise Lubin, a licensed clinical psychologist from Norfolk, Virginia will present on the many paths to healing.
Future topics include breast cancer and sexuality, breast reconstruction, and chemo-related hearing and dental issues.
“I can’t imagine not mentoring for ABCD. As busy as life gets, it’s one of the most fulfilling things I do and I am very proud of it,” shares Deb Probelski, ABCD Mentor since 2015.