ABCD’s Match Specialists Take Care With Every Connection
— By: Gina Rich
March 3, 2020
When a person calls ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis in need of emotional support, what happens next almost seems like magic. Within a few days, each caller is connected with a breast cancer survivor who truly understands what they’re going through, from diagnosis and treatment to life stage and interests. That personalized support is the goal of ABCD’s Mentor matching program, which pairs people facing breast cancer with Mentors – professionally trained volunteers who have walked the same path and can offer empathy and understanding.
While matches happen quickly after a person contacts ABCD, ensuring a pairing is right for both the Participant and the Mentor involves a great deal of time and effort behind the scenes. That’s where ABCD’s Match Specialists – Betsey Bryant, Mary DuVal, and Carrie Williams – come in. Betsey is ABCD’s Senior Program Specialist and has a background in patient advocacy. Both Mary and Carrie are Mentors who went on to join ABCD as employees.
Betsey and Mary began working at ABCD in 2012 and 2019, respectively. During Mary’s first months in her new role, “I would stare at the computer and wait for a referral to come in,” she recalls. Since then, demand for ABCD’s services has grown significantly, especially as the pandemic limited people’s usual support networks. From spring 2020, “I feel like it never slowed down,” Mary says.
In 2021, Match Specialists made a record 670 matches. To help ABCD continue meeting this increased need, Carrie joined the organization as a Match Specialist in February 2022.
FROM CALL TO CONNECTION
After someone requests support through ABCD’s online form or by calling directly, the first step in the matching process is an intake session. A Match Specialist will speak with the Participant to assess their needs. “We just get them talking,” says Carrie.
Match Specialists ask not only about the person’s diagnosis and treatment stage, but also about family circumstances, hobbies, and any particular stressors. Some people are worried about trying to work or care for young kids throughout treatment, Betsey says, and want to speak with a Mentor who had similar concerns.
And because the best matches go beyond finding someone who simply shared the same diagnosis, treatment, and life stage, Match Specialists also pay attention to how the Participant communicates and navigates information. “Part of my role is to assess how that person’s personality comes through,” says Betsey.
Because demand for support is so high, Match Specialists evaluate whether a request needs to be prioritized. That might involve asking a Participant at the end of the call, “Where are you emotionally? Do you feel you need support right now?” says Betsey. If the answer is yes, Match Specialists will start working on the request immediately.
Once the intake is completed, Match Specialists use ABCD’s database to generate a list of appropriate Mentors based on specific, defined characteristics, like age at diagnosis and type of breast cancer. After that, the tricky part is looking at each potential Mentor and finding the nuances that ensure a strong match. Match Specialists often refer to notes from the Mentor’s own intake session to better understand how the person coped with a diagnosis. For example, was the Mentor research-oriented and curious about each aspect of treatment, or okay with a high-level explanation? How does the Mentor prefer to communicate?
As requests continue to come in, Match Specialists must also remain aware of how many matches a Mentor is comfortable taking on at once. “We want to make sure the Mentor has a good experience, too,” Betsey says. With practice, “you get a sense after a while of who to match with whom.”
After the right Mentor is identified, a Match Specialist reaches out to confirm the Mentor can take the match. Then, ABCD connects the Mentor and the Participant.
CARING FOR THE CAREGIVERS
The work that Match Specialists do is at the heart of ABCD, but there are times when it feels emotionally heavy. Talking with patients who are isolated and have little to no support nearby is especially hard, says Mary.
Being able to debrief with the team is critical, Betsey says. “You can’t just shut it off, so sometimes you need to talk with a colleague.”
“Betsey, Mary and Carrie are very special, caring people who day in and day out deliver compassionate service to every person they help,” says Executive Director Ellen Friebert Schupper. “I am so glad they have each other and the rest of the ABCD team to lean on when they need support.”
In the end, “it’s happy work,” says Mary, because of the connections that are made.
“I’ve never not felt good after a call,” agrees Carrie. Even though the conversations can be difficult, she’s noticed that “five to ten minutes in, you can just feel the relief” on the other end of the line.
“When I talk to somebody who’s really having a tough time, I know that I will be able to connect them,” says Betsey. “That’s what saves my heart.”