ADDISON COUNTY — Fran Boglioli was enveloped by several emotions when she was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago. Along with the understandable fear and trepidation, she felt a sense of isolation.
“Despite all of the people around me who cared and wanted to help, I felt very alone,” Boglioli recalled. “I think that’s a pretty common problem when you’ve been diagnosed with something like (cancer).”
So she began looking for people with similar diagnoses, kindred spirits “who can relate to where you are and what it is you have to deal with to get better,” the East Middlebury resident said.
Boglioli was able to make contact with a variety of people facing similar health challenges.
“I really found that that helped,” she said. “There’s a sense of relief when you realize you’re not the only person who’s going through this, who’s having the same problems that you’re having, similar reactions to medications or issues with treatment. People who haven’t had cancer or been close to someone with cancer, it’s hard for them to realize all the stuff that’s going through your mind.”
Her quest for fellow patients ultimately led her to a cancer survivor program called Kindred Connections, offered by the Vermont Cancer Survivor Network (VCSN), a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for anyone living with, through and beyond cancer.
Kindred Connections consists of survivors who have been through cancer, are living with cancer, or are caregivers. They receive training to become good listeners and are empowered to reach out in their community to those who may need one-on-one social support. Kindred Connections volunteers can also offer rides to doctors’ appointments, provide shopping assistance and lend a hand in other ways.
“I think this program can offer people a kind of support that they are not going to get from their friends, or their family, doctor or nurse,” Boglioli said. “It’s not going to be medical support. It’s really just going to be sort of moral support, with a little practical help thrown in when possible.”
Boglioli has had to travel to Chittenden County to participate in Kindred Connections. The program is currently offered in Franklin, Orleans, Washington, Orange, Chittenden and Lamoille counties.
But that will change in a few months when VCSN launches Kindred Connections in Addison County. Sherry Rhynard, the survivor network’s Kindred Connections coordinator, said the organization will spend the summer recruiting volunteers in anticipation of implementing the program in the county early this fall. Rhynard will also be able to connect participants to the oncology social worker or patient navigator at Porter Medical Center.
Rhynard, herself a cancer survivor, has seen firsthand the value of Kindred Connections.
“There is so much fear. You’re kind of like a deer in the headlights,” she said of a patient’s initial reaction after a cancer diagnosis. “You just don’t know exactly where to turn … Talking to someone who has been through it is kind of like a breath of fresh air in a certain way, and can be helpful.”
Kindred Connections volunteers who are survivors should be at least six months removed from their cancer treatment, Rhynard said. Volunteers undergo a couple of two-hour training sessions to hone their listening skills. They are encouraged not to emphasize their own cancer stories in their interactions with their Kindred Connections partner, according to Rhynard.
The volunteers are also trained to preserve confidentiality, to discern signs of depression, and to recommend referrals to other service providers or activities that could be of help to their match.
“It’s a very good training that involves listening to people, being open to what they’re saying and really hearing what they’re saying, as opposed to you telling them what you think they should be saying,” Boglioli said.
Entergy Vermont Yankee, the nuclear power plant in Vernon, and IBEW Union Local 300 employees recently donated $3,000 to Kindred Connections designated for helping the organization get started in Addison County, Rhynard said.
Rhynard hopes to recruit at least a dozen Addison County Kindred Connections volunteers initially, and then build on that number. Anyone interested in volunteering may contact Rhynard toll-free at 1-800-652-5064, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the program can be found at www.vcsn.net.
“This can be part of their journey, to help,” Rhynard said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.