Someone who serves as a trusted counselor or coach to someone less experienced is called a mentor. In the worlds of business, academics and science, professional mentors serve as practical guides or tutors to those entering the field. Adult mentors serve as engaged role models to children in clubs and organizations.
There’s a lesser known yet highly valued kind of mentor: one cancer survivor supporting another.
Cindy Sheridan Murphy is a cancer survivor and volunteer for CHD Cancer House of Hope in West Springfield. “I’ve been a cancer survivor for three years,” she said. “It’s my second bout with cancer and the first time I never sought out any support services, but I learned that no matter what stage you’re in, it’s important to seek that support. And, in my case, to provide it.”
Cindy facilitates the Breast Cancer Support Group at Cancer House of Hope. “It’s predominantly women,” she explained, “including those with a new diagnosis, some who recently finished their treatment, and quite a few who are three years out or even seven years out and feel they need the support. When people first come to Support Group with a cancer diagnosis, they walk in looking like a deer in headlights. When they see that it’s warm and inviting, they calm down a bit.”
Especially with first time participants, Cindy tries be both to comforting and realistic. “I want to welcome people and reassure them that it’s good they decided to come, but I’m not going to sugar coat it. Cancer stinks. If you’re going through treatment, the next six months to year are going to be tough. But you’ll get through it, and we will help you get through it.”
People who have finished their cancer treatment come to Support Group, too. “They may look good on the outside,” Cindy explained, “but they still may have aches and pains and some anxiety. In my role as facilitator, I get people to open up so we can share experiences, insights and resources. Cancer House of Hope has wonderful resources that help people cope and relax, and they’re all free for people with cancer.”
For many participants, Breast Cancer Support Group feels like family—if their family understood what it’s like to be living with cancer. But for some participants, Cindy’s involvement goes a step further. To some people, Cindy is a mentor.
Paula Horenstein of East Longmeadow is breast cancer survivor. “I went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation,” Paula explained. “It was a long journey to say the least. When I finished treatments, I wondered what was next. My oncologist told me to just go out and live my life, but how do you live a life after so much has changed? I lost a good year from my cancer diagnosis to the end of my cancer treatments. I didn’t feel like the same person, and I didn’t have anyone close enough to me that had been through the journey that I was going through. I found myself looking for something, but I didn’t know what it was.”
Like most people, Paula learned about Cancer House of Hope by word of mouth. “Someone I worked with said a friend of hers had gone through cancer and had gone to the House for Support Group,” Paula explained. “At the time, there was a pilot program being offered called Living a New Day. I was out of my comfort zone when I arrived at the first meeting, but within half an hour I was completely comfortable being with half a dozen people I hadn’t met before, discussing our journey.”
Paula continued attending the program and gained much from the experience. “This wasn’t something offered by my oncologist or primary care physician,” she said. “They release you and say we’ll see you in a few months. That’s it. But Cindy understands that some people need more. She’s been there, she gets it and she makes everyone in that room so comfortable. I knew this one program was just for a short time, and half way through I started to get concerned. What am I going to do when it ends? I look forward to each meeting, to seeing the others. In a short time, these people became an important part of my life, like family. I needed someone who could help me keep moving forward.”
She needed a cancer survivor mentor—and Cindy was the one.
“Paula came to the pilot group I offered about life after cancer, and she has found the continuing support to be really helpful,” said Cindy. “Since I have been in the position these women are in now, I can share my knowledge and experience to help them work through the emotions and physical changes they are feeling. I try to help them become more comfortable talking about their cancer and living their lives.”
Paula explained some of the ways Cindy mentors her. “Cindy has a way for presenting information that most people would find difficult to talk about. If she sees an article she thinks I might be interested in, she emails it to me. She sends texts to check in with me. She sends messages through our Facebook group. She’s always available if I have a question or if I just need to talk, and she responds quickly. I know people who are going through the cancer journey, and I try to remind them that your treatment will eventually end, but it’s not ever really over for you. At some point, you’re going to need something else. That something else is Cindy Sheridan Murphy.”
CHD Cancer House of Hope works to enhance the lives of people with cancer and those who care about them by providing emotional, educational, social and spiritual support. The House provides a range of cancer support services and relaxation programs at no cost to those who face this devastating disease. Each year, CHD Cancer House of Hope serves 500 guests, right here in our community. Every penny of every dollar donated to the House directly impacts programming and the people served.