Advocacy Action—Volunteering as a Telephone Counselor
Here are some steps for becoming a hotline volunteer
“Am I going to die?”
Christina Koenig is the director of communications and media relations at Breast Cancer Network of Strength. Nancy Nixon is the director of the Breast Cancer Network of Strength call center.
“My wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer. What do we do?”
“How can I make decisions about my treatment when I’m so upset?”
These are common questions asked on the Breast Cancer Network of Strength YourShoes™ hotline—the only 24/7 hotline in the United States staffed by trained peer counselors who are breast cancer survivors. Breast Cancer Network of Strength’s peer counselors help callers by giving emotional support and information about breast cancer procedures and treatment options. Other support organizations offer telephone support services for patients with a variety of cancers.
“When I was first diagnosed, I was in a state of shock and I reached out to Breast Cancer Network of Strength,” says Nancy Gaul, a breast cancer survivor. Now she’s one of the voices on the other end of the line. “It’s so rewarding to be able to give back and help other people through it,” says Gaul. “You can turn a bad situation into a positive, empowering one.”
Sound good? Here’s what you can do to become a telephone counselor, too.
1. Decide if you’re ready. If you’re a cancer survivor, like Breast Cancer Network of Strength’s counselors, it’s important that you are emotionally ready and in tune with your own cancer experience before you become a volunteer. Sometimes receiving a call can trigger your own emotions. If your own diagnosis upsets you, you may not be able to lend strength and support to someone who is seeking it.
2. Do some research. Get on the internet or call up an organization that interests you. Find out if it has a telephone hotline and ask about the hotline’s role. Breast Cancer Network of Strength’s mission is to ensure that no one faces breast cancer alone. Its telephone counselors coach callers on how to communicate effectively with their doctors and encourage patients to be key players on their health care teams. Callers can be paired with peer counselors who share similar diagnoses, ages or experiences. Telephone support at other organizations may operate in different ways.
3. Learn about the requirements. Investigate the requirements and procedures for becoming a telephone volunteer at the organization you want to help. For instance, Breast Cancer Network of Strength requires counselors to be breast cancer survivors who are out of treatment for at least one year.
4. Determine how much time you can dedicate. Volunteering as a hotline counselor takes time and commitment. At Breast Cancer Network of Strength, counselors are asked to commit 20 hours each month, answering hotline calls during designated shifts at home or at a Breast Cancer Network of Strength affiliate office. Contact the organization that interests you to find out the time commitment it expects.
5. Understand the responsibilities. It’s important to know the kinds of responsibilities you will have as a telephone counselor. Breast Cancer Network of Strength’s counselors answer hotline calls and provide peer support, information and resource referrals. They practice basic peer counseling and crisis intervention techniques, and keep current on new developments in breast cancer. The responsibilities of counselors at other organizations may differ, so ask about their counselors’ roles.
6. Inquire about training. Breast Cancer Network of Strength’s peer counselors must attend a two-day training session and pass an online certification exam afterward. Contact the organization with which you’d like to volunteer to learn about its training opportunities and requirements.
—Christina Koenig and Nancy Nixon
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Breast Cancer Network of Strength: www.networkofstrength.org
Breast Cancer Network of Strength YourShoes™ Hotline volunteering: www.networkofstrength.org/volunteer/oncall.php
Breast Cancer Network of Strength YourShoes™ Hotline: 1-800-221-2141 (English, with interpreters available in 150 languages) or 1-800-986-9505 (Spanish)