UW program matches cancer patients and survivors

UW program matches cancer patients and survivors
When Deborah Tobin was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, the worst part of what the doctor had to say was what she didn't and couldn't know about the disease.

When Deborah Tobin was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, the worst part of what the doctor had to say was what she didn’t and couldn’t know about the disease.

“Honestly, the worst part for me probably was before and at diagnosis because there are so many unknowns, and the fear is pretty overwhelming,” Tobin said.

Since then, Tobin went through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

“The thing that really really helped me the most is having the ability to talk to someone who has been through this experience before,” Tobin said.

When the nursing staff at UW offered her a chance to be a part of the Patient Survivor Advocate Program, Tobin knew it was something that would help her through treatment.

“No one can give you that reassurance like another person who’s been through it,” Tobin said.

Lynn Malayter was diagnosed two days after Christmas two years ago.

“I got the phone call saying, the exact words I’ll never forget were the biopsy wasn’t what we hoped it was going to be, and my heart just dropped,” Malayter described.

Malayter survived the breast cancer, and soon after, she heard about the Patient Survivor Advocate Program.

“And I thought, wow,” Malayter said.  “This is a wonderful way to give back and perhaps help somebody walk the walk and just be there.”

Malayter had a friend who she turned to during her treatment, so she knew how valuable that kind of input could be. 

“Everybody wants to really help so much, and yet they will say, I know how you feel.  And inside, you’re thinking, no you don’t.  You haven’t been there,” Malayter explained.

The Patient Survivor Advocate Program matches up people recently diagnosed with survivors who have gone through a similar cancer and treatment track.

Malayter and Tobin were paired up, and their first conversation lasted hours.

“Before the end of the conversation, I said to her this is the best day I’ve had since I was diagnosed.  It’s the first time I had laughed,” Tobin said.  “She made me laugh and no one else could do that.”

“We have never lacked for anything to talk about, let’s put it that way,” Malayter said.

Malayter is now just one of 20 volunteers who are trained and paired up with current patients.

The friendship went from calls and texts to encouraging e-mails to finally meeting face-to-face for the first time this holiday season.

“When I got the diagnosis and I was talking to people, it was really odd because I said to them, I don’t know why this has happened, but mark my words, something good will come from it,” Malayter said.  “And it did!”

“I mean, I hope that at some point down the road, I will be a member of the advocate team as well and be able to be as supportive to another person or persons as Lynn was to me.  That’s really a goal of mine,” Tobin said.

For more information on the program, visit UW Health’s page on Breast Care.