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Building Personalized 
Connections After Breast 
Cancer Diagnosis

Ellen Friebert Schupper

Ellen Friebert Schupper

When confronted with a breast cancer diagnosis, connecting with those who have been through similar experiences can provide whole-person emotional and spiritual support. Since 1999, Milwaukee-based After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (ABCD) has offered comfort and encouragement through a nationwide network of mentors—all of whom are breast cancer survivors or caregivers—that provide customized peer support via phone, text and email communication.

Executive Director Ellen Friebert Schupper says ABCD was founded by the late Melodie Wilson Oldenburg, a longtime Milwaukee TV journalist. When Wilson Oldenburg was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, she shared her story with the public. “She believed that nobody should feel alone when they’re diagnosed with breast cancer,” Friebert Schupper says. “What she discovered by sharing information about herself on public TV was that she started getting calls from people that wanted to share their own stories about breast cancer. She realized that she could help create a one-to-one support network connecting people with similar stories.”

Breast cancer survivors who are at least one year out from treatment may volunteer after going through a 12-hour training program. ABCD’s pool of 285 mentors, representing every type of breast cancer, is based ABCD Member Supportthroughout the country. The mentors range in ages from 30 to 90; come from all religions, walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds; and have gone through traditional, holistic or integrative treatments.

As a nonprofit, all services provided by ABCD are free and begin with a phone call or email. “We make it easy. We’re not about adding another meeting or another appointment to someone’s life. People call us and tell us a bit about themselves so we can then create a powerful connection with one of our trained mentors who is ready to give back and help someone else in need of support.”

ABCD is dedicated to closely pairing their callers to a mentor, and have a cross-section of people so that they can find as close a match as possible. “Those close connections can have a strong impact on someone going through breast cancer. We match people based on who they are as a person, in addition to their specific breast cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Friebert Schupper says. “We connect a 45-year-old working mom who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer with a woman who is a survivor, also 45 and a busy working mom. We meet each caller at the place where they’re at.”

They also get calls from family members that need help supporting their loved ones, such as a recent call from a father. His young daughter had been diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer, and he needed help in talking to her. While they weren’t able to connect him to another father, they matched him to a mentor whose age, place in life and diagnosis was very similar. It’s been a powerful match, Friebert Schupper reports. “The person who seeks out our ABCD Membersservice gains tremendous value, but it’s also good for the mentors. The power of these connections is important to their overall health as well, by keeping them connected and engaged which results in better health outcomes. It helps them pay attention to their own self-care.”

In addition to the mentorship connections, ABCD has a health care liaison program where they focus on raising awareness about their services throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. “We are working very deliberately to deepen relationships with health facilities within all major medical institutions in our hometown community,” Friebert Schupper explains. “Our information is included in the educational folders presented to patients upon diagnosis, and physicians and clinicians regularly refer patients to ABCD.”

Sister organizations include the Susan G. Komen foundation and the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse, which organizes an annual fundraising event where local interior designers transform a historic home that is opened for tours. ABCD also has a strong partnership with the Nurses Affecting Change program of UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing. The program sends nurses into underserved communities to do free breast exams. “Although our focus is to provide assistance after diagnosis, we want to support efforts of organizations that promote research and early detection, too,” she said.

For more information about the services of After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, or to become a mentor or donate, call 1-800-977-4121 or visit ABCDBreastCancerSupport.org or Facebook.com/ABCDAfterBreastCancerDiagnosis.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

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