The Valerie Goldfein Story: Founder of the Woman to Woman Program
November 4, 1999
“November 4, 1999 was one of those perfect autumn days in New York when it seems as though nothing could go wrong. But it did for me. That was the day I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the world as I knew it would never be the same,” says Valerie.
“No one could have been kinder or gentler than my doctors, whose boundless empathy sustained me through my illness.
I am the least private person on the planet. So, when I was diagnosed, I reached out to those closest to me and shared my news. I guess you could say I was positioning the troops for battle. I thought it would lighten my burden, and it did.
But ovarian cancer is like a tornado. It spins you around and around and you have to land on your feet and get your bearings. It was such an isolating, lonely, scary feeling. I just wanted to make it all go away! I had never actually known anyone who had survived ovarian cancer, and although I was surrounded by the love and support of my husband, family and friends, I longed for someone to contact me and say, ‘You are not alone; I’m here for you. You must have a million questions. Let’s talk.’ That is why Woman to Woman was conceived. I wanted to make people aware that there ARE survivors and there IS hope.”
“In September of 2003, I approached the Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary Board to request seed money to begin a gynecologic cancer support program. The Board granted funding and we were off and running.
What followed were many meetings – with doctors, nurses, social workers, patients and hospital administrators – all of which culminated on December 31, 2003, when the Woman to Woman Program officially began.”
The Woman to Woman Program pairs newly-diagnosed gynecologic cancer patients at the hospital with trained and supervised survivor volunteers, who provide one-on-one emotional support and mentoring, while promoting education and self-advocacy for women undergoing treatment, as well as their partners and families.
Says Valerie, “I am the very proud founder of Woman to Woman, but the heart and soul of the program lives with Arden Moulton and our fifteen volunteers at Mount Sinai Hospital. Arden, at the helm, is our social work coordinator who keeps us all on track with humor, grace and compassion. She is our ‘go to’ person whose generosity of time and friendship knows no bounds.
Our group of survivor volunteers is unique. We are fifteen women from disparate backgrounds. Our ages span four decades and we are in various stages of recovery and recurrence, yet we share a strong common bond: we are all survivors dedicated to giving back by improving the lives of women diagnosed with gynecological cancer. We have sat at patients’ bedsides after diagnosis, accompanied patients to chemotherapy, laughed and cried with them, and held their hands as they went to surgery.
Our education, learned firsthand along with a comprehensive training program and ongoing support, equips us with the skills and empathy to achieve our mission.
Although it has been our privilege to address medical school classes and conferences, and appear on local and national television news programs, the part of the program I especially treasure is our patient assistance fund which has provided financial support for women and their families at desperate times in their lives, and has really made such a difference. We have paid patients’ utility bills, helped with rent and childcare, and provided transportation to chemotherapy treatments for those too ill to use public transportation.”
October 2011: Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Takes the Woman to Woman Program National
OCRF began funding the Woman to Woman Program at Mt. Sinai Hospital in 2005. Pleased with its tremendous success, and recognizing the significant need for greater support for gynecologic cancer patients and their loved ones across the country, OCRF adopted Woman to Woman as its signature patient support program and expanded it nationally. Beginning with a pilot program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, OCRF then awarded new grants to Duke Cancer Institute, and the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. And, OCRF has just announced two new partner institutions who will receive grants to start their own Woman to Woman Programs: Stanford Women’s Cancer Center and Moffitt Cancer Center.
When Valerie learned that OCRF was expanding the program nationally with the help of OCRF’s longtime partner QVC, she was ecstatic. “It blew me away! I couldn’t stop smiling, and I couldn’t wait to tell the Auxiliary Board who had originally funded the program.
It is now 14 years since my diagnosis, and I remain cancer-free and left with a profound sense of gratitude for all my good fortune, along with an even keener appreciation for the beauty and wonder of my everyday life, which is blessed with a wonderful husband, children, grandchildren, a multitude of friends, and last but not least all of the magnificent women who are associated with Woman to Woman.
I believe we fill a desperate need that patients are sometimes not aware of, but are always grateful for at such a difficult time in their lives. The late Tony Snow wrote, ‘Although cancer is not a blessing, it has helped me understand the real power of kindness and concern, as if I had been hoisted up on the shoulders of others who had taken up my burden and raised me up.’ This is the idea of Woman to Woman.”
Thousands of women and their families who are involved in the Woman to Woman Program at Mount Sinai, as well as at OCRF’s partner institutions of New York-Presbyterian, Duke, Yale, and soon Stanford and Moffit, have ovarian cancer survivor and program founder Valerie Goldfein to thank for her idea, her passion, her dedication, and her commitment to helping women cope and heal after a gynecologic cancer diagnosis.