(New York, NY – October 4, 2011) – A unique support program that pairs women with gynecologic cancer with volunteers who have survived the disease is coming to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. The national Woman to Woman program, funded by Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF), was first established at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, and OCRF plans to begin funding the program nationally, first as a pilot at New York-Presbyterian and then at medical centers in various communities.
There are six types of gynecologic cancer: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, vulvar, and fallopian tube. Though the incidence rate is relatively low – nearly 81,000 women diagnosed with gynecologic cancer in 2007 – mortality rates are high. For women with ovarian cancer, 75 percent of cases are diagnosed in late, less treatable stages. Woman to Woman provides patients and their families with one-to-one emotional support by pairing them with a woman who has been through a similar diagnosis and treatment path. More than 1,000 women and their families have worked with a Woman to Woman volunteer. Until now, the support program at Mount Sinai was the only hospital-based program of its kind in the country dedicated exclusively to gynecologic cancer.
The program was started in 2003 by Valerie Goldfein, an ovarian cancer survivor. As a patient she felt scared and alone and wanted to connect with someone who had survived the disease, knew first-hand what she was going through, and could provide her with hope. After she completed treatment and went into remission, Valerie worked with her Mount Sinai gynecologic oncologist, Peter Dottino, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, the Mount Sinai Department of Social Work, and The Auxiliary Board at Mount Sinai to launch Woman to Woman. Eight years later, after seeing the success of the program as an early supporter, OCRF stepped in to fund the expansion.
“OCRF is proud to fund the expansion of such a successful, much-needed program and facilitate providing ovarian cancer patients and their families – at NewYorkPresbyterian and ultimately at other medical institutions throughout the U.S. – with the support they need,” said Audra Moran, CEO of Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.
The volunteers are matched to patients based on cancer type, age, and other demographics and see women at any stage of their treatment. They are trained to listen, discuss concerns, and sometimes just hold a hand. They provide a special understanding that can only be given by someone with a similar experience. The relationships forged during treatment often turn into a lifelong bond.
“Many of my patients credit the support they’ve received from Woman to Woman with getting them through their diagnosis and treatment,” said Herbert Gretz, MD, the Gynecologic Oncology and Minimally Invasive Surgery Division Director of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Mount Sinai. “Collaborating with OCRF and NewYork-Presbyterian to expand this program has the potential to help thousands more patients across the country.”
NewYork-Presbyterian will serve as the pilot for the Woman to Woman expansion when it launches this fall. As part of their training, the NewYork-Presbyterian survivor volunteers will shadow the volunteers at Mount Sinai before being paired with patients at NewYork-Presbyterian. The program will be spearheaded by Sharyn N. Lewin, MD, a gynecologic surgical oncologist at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“Gynecologic cancers exact an enormous toll on patients and their families. Offering emotional support in addition to quality clinical care is crucial in effectively treating our patients,” said Dr. Lewin. “We’re excited to be the first program in OCRF’s Woman to Woman national expansion as it will give us another resource for providing comprehensive patient care.”