Triad Living — Spring 2014
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MeaningfulMENTORSHIP
Amber E. Watson


Greensboro-area breast cancer patients receive much needed support

The Alight Foundation, based in Greensboro, N.C., might be small in size, but its impact is huge. With two part-time employees (an executive director and an administrative assistant), and about 75 volunteers, the organization touches the lives of just about every single breast cancer patient who is diagnosed and treated at the Cone Health Cancer Center.

Nine years ago, when Alight Foundation founder Mary Gorrell Jones was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was disappointed that women were not given information about breast cancer at the time of diagnosis. It was troubling to leave an imaging center after receiving that life-changing news without a solid resource of information in hand. So, in 2005, Gorrell Jones set out to change that.

Armed with information
One of the Alight Foundation’s first projects was launching a binder full of local resources for newly diagnosed patients. Alight collaborated with Cone Health Cancer Center and produced The Journey binder, which now has over 600 copies distributed annually.

The foundation also began to provide “The Breast Cancer Handbook” by Judy Kneece to patients; it is the most widely, doctor- recommended book on breast cancer, along with a tote bag and a pillow for after surgery.

Later, an emergency assistance fund was added to the organization’s outreach. Over $100,000 has been dispersed to patients in need for necessities like utilities, childcare, rent, and transportation.

In 2012, Alight Foundation moved into the Cone Health Cancer Center and hired a new executive director, Melissa Vogelsinger. Vogelsinger, a seven-year survivor, had been running a growing breast cancer peermentoring program in Greensboro, and with her appointment, was able to bring survivor mentoring onsite.

“Patients have the opportunity to speak with our volunteer survivors when they are in for appointments. We all wear our ‘survivor’ badges and it proves to be a great intro for conversing with women waiting on their appointment,” says Melinda Madtes, Alight chairman and clinic volunteer. Last year, 161 patients were referred for peer mentoring.

When Vogelsinger was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at 43, she didn’t know anyone who had the disease. “When I began attending support group, I realized that the one-on-one contact with a woman who has been through the treatment was essential. That’s why the onsite survivor piece is so important to me,” she shares. “I can see the relief in a woman’s face when they see me with my hair and health and know that I’ve been there.”

With 60 survivor mentors like Vogelsinger, it is easy to imagine the power of their support. Whether by phone, or a visit to the chemo infusion room, Alight volunteers have a powerful impact on the entire family. “We give patients the much-needed vision of life beyond cancer, provide coping tips and perspective,” adds Vogelsinger.

A hopeful future
The vision of the organization is that all breast cancer patients will have the support and resources to face the challenges of their treatment journey with dignity and grace. “Basically, we want breast cancer patients to feel supported, and we want to assist Cone Health Cancer Center in providing exceptional care by meeting the needs that might not otherwise be addressed,” says Vogelsinger.

Tami Knutson, manager at Cone Health Breast Cancer Center understands the important role the Alight Foundation plays in the lives of newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients: “The Breast Care Alliance could not offer the same level of individualized care for patients without the foundation’s volunteer support. They are able to meet each patient where they are with resources, as well as other women that have gone through similar experiences.”

Vogelsinger’s personal goal is to help patients have such a positive experience with their breast cancer journey that they want to do what the founder and she have done—give back to other women and find purpose in this journey. “There is nothing more gratifying than having a woman who I have mentored through their treatment journey come to my peer mentor training.”

The Alight Foundation is not advocating awareness or trying to find a cure, but it is in the trenches with patients battling the disease who need help and hope now.

Amber E. Watson is editor of Triad Living and Wake Living magazines.

Events & Outreach

The Alight Foundation reaches out to the community annually with the Alight at Tyler White event, taking place this year on Sept. 25—a lovely wine and cheese gathering at Tyler White Gallery.

They also partner with the News & Record in Oct. with the Pink Out Retro Prom. Participants get to step back in time and dress up like they are heading to prom. It is a fun dance party that benefits Alight.

The Apple Fest is an outdoor music event also taking place in Oct. Popular area bands perform and tasty barbeque is served.

Dancers Against Cancer is held in Oct. as well, and showcases the talent of local dance studios. All proceeds benefit Alight.

For more information about Alight Foundation events, support, and for making a contribution, visit alightfoundation.org or call (336) 832-0027.
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