Monday, June 10, 2013

Mission Monday: First Connection Volunteer

Bill Bock with Deputy Executive Director Stacey Russell (left)
and Executive Director Patricia Thomson (right) at the 2013
Volunteer Appreciation Event.

I will always remember the moment when the doctor said "I’m afraid you have AML and it is a very serious form of leukemia". He explained that this disease was highly complex and that his hospital did not even take AML patients. In a blur, we were shuffled off to a larger facility where a new oncologist spent a goodly amount of time with treatment options and ended by saying I needed to be admitted immediately. We left with a whirlwind of terms like chemically induced remission, stem cell transplant, graft vs. host disease and many other barely understood concepts. The whole ordeal was frightening and I wept when I told my children.

The hospital stay was long and emotionally exhausting for my family. In 2005 patients were confined to one floor in an effort to avoid outside infections. I recall praying for simple things like sunshine and a light breeze on my face as I watched runners twelve stories below and wishing I could join them. Upon remission, my transplant nurse said she had found a number of potential donors and that two were considered perfect matches. Furthermore, each agreed to donate. After undergoing a second high level chemotherapy round to prepare my body for the transplant, the actual transplant process was almost anticlimactic.

The roller coaster of emotions eventually came to an end and I was released to begin the healing process.

In subsequent doctor visits I learned of The Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS)and their First Connection program and it brought back all those feelings of fear and despair. My wife and I would have loved to speak to a survivor who had experienced all this. I told myself I would get involved so that someday a man just like me would learn that this is not a death sentence and that there can be a positive outcome.

Five years and three more grandchildren later, I was pronounced cured.

Since then I have signed on as a First Connection volunteer for the North Texas Chapter and have made countless calls to newly diagnosed patients of all blood cancers. While attempting to alleviate their fears, I also make them aware of other LLS services that can help with financial, psychological and legal difficulties.

About the First Connection Program:
The Patti Robinson Kaufmann First Connection Program is a free service of LLS that enables patients and their loved ones to connect with a trained peer volunteer who has gone through a similar experience.  The program makes an average of 6,000 first connections each year.

LLS First Connection peer volunteers are in a unique position to provide support and community resource information to others facing a similar cancer diagnosis.  Patients and their family members are matched with peer volunteers.  The match is based on diagnosis, age, gender and other factors that might create a mutual understanding and ease of communication between participants and volunteers.

You can learn more here about how to take advantage of the First Connection Program in North Texas as either a volunteer or recipient.

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