Darci Wheeler was just thirty-six years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her two sons were eight and twelve. Like many women with a similar diagnosis, Darci underwent surgery, choosing to have a double mastectomy, and chemotherapy. A resident of the town of Bowdoin, Darci used the services of the Dempsey Center, which opened the same year she was diagnosed.

Darci Wheeler and her partner, Mike Hauser

Fast forward to 2015. Feeling ready to help others with their cancer experience, Darci attended a Maine Buddy Program training so she could become a volunteer cancer mentor. “I wanted to give something back,” she says. “I wanted my experience with cancer to do some good for others.”

Darci credits the training with giving her the tools to help newly-diagnosed cancer patients. “I’m a talker,” says Darci with a laugh. “I had to learn to check myself and listen more than I talk.”

Diana Jagde, Mission Services Associate at the Cancer Community Center, coordinates the Maine Buddy Program. She says volunteers like Darci are essential to the success of the program. “Even though every cancer experience is different, talking with a person who has had a similar experience can be very helpful to someone who has just received a cancer diagnosis,” says Diana. “Even people with solid support systems can gain from connecting with a volunteer cancer mentor.”​

Darci says the length of that connection is different for each person. Some people need and want a longer period of time, while others are happy to touch base just one or two times.

Darci shares some insights she has gained from her three years as a volunteer cancer mentor.

“Most questions are really concrete, practical. I try to give specifics about what worked for me, without embellishments, giving only what they are asking for and no more. When you’ve got cancer, too much information at once can be overwhelming.”

“People may make choices I wouldn’t choose. It’s not my place to disagree. My role is to be a support person. I always tell people, ‘Do what feels right for you. You have to feel good about your decisions.’ I never make treatment recommendations; that’s not my role.”

“People often want to learn about strategies for coping. I’m happy to share what worked for me, even as I encourage people to do what’s best for them.”

“I want to be positive and helpful to people, and I’m able to do that because I have a positive attitude about my own cancer experience. Doctors give cancer patients bad news. Cancer mentors can give them good news.”

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer with the Maine Buddy Program should call the Center at 207-774-2200 to learn more.