Program pairs survivors with recently diagnosed patients based on specific criteria

At just 28 years old, Candice Pryce got the shock of her life when she was diagnosed with Stage III-A triple negative breast cancer.

Two years later, she is cancer-free, and ready to connect with those who are about to tread the same dark waters.

Pryce is one of roughly a dozen other volunteers who recently completed the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s peer mentoring training program last month.

The program, which has been pairing mentors and mentees together for over 15 years, provides a more one-on-one opportunity for current breast cancer patients to learn firsthand about their diagnosis and treatment from someone who has fought the disease themselves.

Peer mentoring program director for New Castle and Kent Counties Lori Wilkinson said that more than anything, the program provides some encouragement for newly diagnosed patients that they are not alone.

“Their job is to listen,” Wilkinson said. “Listen and share experiences, tell them what it’s like going through chemotherapy or radiation treatment from someone who has gone through it.”

Mentees are partnered with their mentor using different criteria, including age, race and diagnosis, among others, to best serve new patients’ needs, Wilkinson said.

It also provides hope that one day, things will get better.

For Pryce, it was a moment at a treatment center that helped her understand the importance of making that direct connection.

Looking around at the other patients awaiting their treatment, Pryce said she felt singularly alone.

“No one looked like me - a young, African American woman,” she said. “It’s important to have someone to relate to, because our identities and those connections shape the way you experience things.”

Hockessin resident Nanci Mayer-Mihalski, who is cancer-free now for 19 years, helped develop the mentoring program when it first began, and has seen hundreds of successful relationships begin in the process.

“It is the best of its kind out there,” she said about the program. “We work to match people with people of some likeness. This disease typically hits older women. If you’re a young woman with this diagnosis and you’re looking at a woman of 60, you’re going to think, ‘how could she possibly know what’s happening to me?’”

Pryce said the connection with her mentor, with whom she is still best friends, helped encourage her to sign up as a mentor.

“I was lucky to have her,” Pryce said.

While Pryce has yet to serve as a newly trained mentor, she said she is eager to make that same connection that helped pull her through a life-changing experience.

“It’s my chance to give back to a community that gave so much to me, and to build that connection through the relationships you create,” she said. “That means more friends, more resources, and that chance to let someone know that there is hope.”

The next peer mentor training session is in November. For more information or to sign up, visit debreastcancer.org.