Reach To Recovery Marks 45 Years of Supporting Women With Breast Cancer

woman comforting a female cancer patient

For many women diagnosed with breast cancer, Reach To Recovery is a ray of hope during a dark time.

Rose Phillips says she felt numb after her diagnosis in 2003 and wanted to talk to someone who could really tell her what to expect. Her surgeon gave her a pamphlet about Reach To Recovery, an American Cancer Society program that matches trained volunteers who are breast cancer survivors with newly diagnosed patients. Phillips called the American Cancer Society’s national cancer information center (1-800-227-2345) listed in the pamphlet and made an appointment.

“That woman made such a difference in my attitude,” said Phillips. “She was my age and she had the same surgery I had. She had chemo and radiation like I eventually did. She was so positive, and a 5-year survivor.”

After Phillips’ treatment and recovery, she trained to become a Reach To Recovery volunteer herself. She now contacts newly diagnosed breast cancer patients to answer their questions and listen to their concerns.

A 45th anniversary

This year marks the program’s 45th anniversary with the American Cancer Society. It was begun by breast cancer survivor Terese Lasser, who struggled to find emotional and educational support after a mastectomy for breast cancer in 1952. She established 300 chapters in the US and abroad by the time Reach To Recovery was adopted by the American Cancer Society in 1969.

In its early years, Reach To Recovery focused on visits to hospitalized patients, most of whom had undergone mastectomies. Today, Reach To Recovery’s activities reflect the progress made in breast cancer detection and treatment since the program began.

Sherrie Grasty was diagnosed in 2001. Her treatment included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy. Her treatment lasted more than 5 years and during that time she endured side effects that left her sick and tired. Her surgeon connected her with Reach To Recovery, and she met Mary, who helped her understand what to expect from treatment and how to deal with the loss of her hair. Those experiences motivated Grasty to train to become a volunteer.

She said, “I decided that when I got well I wanted to work with Reach To Recovery because it’s such a valuable tool to talk with other people and help them feel better about what’s going to happen.”

Backed by research

Reach To Recovery matches patients with volunteers based on similarities in their breast cancer experience, age, and other important personal characteristics. Breast cancer is the essential common bond, but having other characteristics in common often makes for better understanding and easier communication. And research shows it’s working.

A study of a Reach To Recovery program in Canada found that most women who took part were satisfied with their experience and that it improved their quality of life. The sooner women connected with a volunteer after their diagnosis and treatment, the more satisfied they tended to be. Compared with women who did not take part in the program, women who took part in Reach To Recovery also reported better relationships with their doctors and were more likely to say they had people who cared about them in their lives.

1 million and counting

Since its beginnings, Reach To Recovery has provided support to more than 1 million people in all 50 states. Today, more than 7,800 breast cancer survivors are active Reach To Recovery volunteers. They communicate with patients over the telephone, face-to-face, or online and provide information, resource referrals, and individual support.

Many of these volunteers are active in many other parts of the American Cancer Society as well, including Relay For Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer events. They also work with community advisory groups, and they advocate for policy changes as members and leaders of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

The best way to get involved with Reach To Recovery as a patient or a volunteer, or to find out about other American Cancer Society programs, is to call us at 1-800-227-2345.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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