Guilford Woman October 2012 : Page 38

Shining Alight on the Journey Melissa Vogelsinger is the Executive Director of Alight Foundation, the Program Coordinator for Reach to Recovery for American Cancer Society and is also a 5-year breast cancer survivor. 38 | GUILFORDWOMAN.COM

Shining Alight on the Journey

Melissa Vogelsinger

<br /> When breast cancer survivor Melissa Vogelsinger accepted the job as Alight Foundation’s Executive Director, stationed in the Cone Health Cancer Center, many in the local breast cancer community thought it was a marriage made in heaven.<br /> <br /> Vogelsinger has been running the growing Reach to Recovery survivor peer mentoring program for the American Cancer Society for the past three years where she recruited, trained and matched these volunteers up with newly diagnosed patients.<br /> <br /> Alight, a local non-profit solely geared toward easing the burdens of breast cancer for patients through emergency assistance funding and educational resources, needed a highly visible leader with a track record of patient support. Vogelsinger had that. And, being a breast cancer survivor herself certainly personalized the mission.<br /> <br /> When Mary Jones founded Alight in 2007, she believed that breast cancer patients needed a comprehensive guide to local resources given to them upon diagnosis. Additionally, she felt that limited money should be available for the very real non-cancer problems facing patients trying to navigate the burden of a major medical event -- things like keeping their electricity on and buying gas for their car. Born from these concerns came the Journey Resource Binder, and an emergency assistance fund that distributes $28,000 annually to breast cancer patients in need.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Tami Knutson, Manager of the Cone Health Breast Alliance, also had a vision of how a breast cancer patient could get optimal care – not just from a medical standpoint, but addressing the emotional journey a woman faces as well. Together, with Alight's resources, Knutson and Vogelsinger believe that support should start on their first visit to the cancer center.<br /> <br /> The collaboration that Vogelsinger is now providing with ACS in bringing in certified volunteers is playing out Ms. Knutson’s vision. The survivor volunteers are women who have walked those cancer center halls, sat in the infusion chairs, and held the appointment beepers. They get it. Now, onsite volunteers can visit with patients to assess how they’re coming along emotionally and direct them to pertinent and appropriate resources, often using the Journey as a reference.<br /> <br /> "Sometimes patients see my badge and they just want to ask how I felt about losing my hair,” says Jenny Rayna, Alight reception volunteer coordinator. "Other times, it’s simply enough to just walk through the clinic wearing the 'survivor' badge for patients to realize that life does one day get back to business as usual."<br /> <br /> Vogelsinger is as passionate about raising funds and marshaling resources to help patients as she is about actually helping them. As Alight’s ED, Vogelsinger is able to see first hand onsite how patients can be helped and how best that effort might be coordinated. She’s wearing many hats in her new job, spending time creating collateral for fundraising, talking to groups about what it’s like to have cancer and how they can help patients, researching ways to help the support services that Cone Health is so well known for, and zeroing in on patient needs on the ground floor literally, in the support groups and in the clinic.<br /> <br /> Nearly anyone that has cancer, of any kind, will tell you that speaking with someone that has been through what they’re facing, in person, and seeing them in a healthy place, is often the reassurance they need. As ED for Alight, Vogelsinger is in a unique position to help identify needs, how they can be addressed and certainly do all of that with the care and compassion of a woman that has truly been there.

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