On the surface, Doris Nelson and Lenny Weiss appear to be more different than they are alike. She’s a 77-year old mother of eight, grandmother of many who needs continuous oxygen. He’s a 67-year-old businessman, married 16 years, a former wrestler. Beneath the surface, though, these two have a lot in common. They share cancer survivorship – Mrs. Nelson from lung cancer 2½ years ago and Mr. Weiss from throat cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 20 years ago – upbeat attitudes and a compassion for other people with cancer. These similarities have led them to having still another thing in common – they are both involved in The Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative 4th Angel Mentoring Program.
The 4th Angel Mentoring Program matches cancer survivors as mentors with current cancer patients. Angels provide support, non-clinical information and, sometimes, as Mrs. Nelson explains, a shoulder to cry on. "When I would go for radiation, I would see people sitting there looking so lost and hopeless," she says. "I would talk to them, try to encourage them, pray with them." Next thing she knew, a Taussig Cancer Center social worker was recruiting her to take mentoring training to become a volunteer 4th Angel. Mrs. Nelson delivers support and encouragement by phone, calling her patients regularly. "They all have my number and can call me, too, if they need to talk," she adds. "We talk, we pray, sometimes we cry."
Through all of it, her strength never falters. "I tell people that once they accept that they have cancer, then they have to be determined to fight it and win." Mr. Weiss also started counseling people informally at first when friends gave out his phone number to other friends newly diagnosed with cancer and suggested they call him for encouragement. When CARES established the 4th Angel Mentoring Program, Mr. Weiss signed up for the formal training and expanded his network. A straight shooter who tells it like it is, "The first thing I tell people is that cancer is not a walk in the park," Mr. Weiss says. "Then I tell them there are three factors that will get them through: family, faith and a positive attitude." When possible, he meets his patients, toting along photographs of himself during his cancer treatments. "People look at those pictures and they look at me and they realize 'Wow, you can survive.' That’s what they need to hear and believe," he says. "It makes a huge difference."
Like all 4th Angel mentors, Mrs. Nelson and Mr. Weiss are not paid for their work, at least not in money. The rewards, they agree, come in a form other than dollars and cents. "I believe that this is why I am here – to help other people," Mr. Weiss says. "I get tremendous satisfaction and strength when people say 'thanks.'