In 2015, breast cancer is not an unfamiliar disease. It is, in fact, all too familiar for many families. But a local organization is working to end some of the fear a diagnosis can bring.
The Firefly Sisterhood connects women recently diagnosed with breast cancer with a mentor, whom the sisterhood refers to as a “guide.” The guides have already overcome the disease themselves and have gone through an orientation that familiarizes them with social-emotional support techniques. They use these techniques and their own experiences to act as an emotional support for their match.
The executive director of the organization, Minnetonka resident Kris Newcomer, was with the project from its inception. “When I was originally assigned to this project, I had no idea what it would become,” Newcomer says. The project became registered as a fully operating 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2014. The sisterhood made its debut at the 2014 Race for the Cure at Mall of America with just 15 volunteers, and a vision of the help it could provide. Now, just a year and a half later, the group has more than 90 trained volunteers and has made well over 100 matches. “It all came together so quickly, so we always have been looking to see how we can learn and self-correct kinks along the way,” says Newcomer.
As the number of women in the sisterhood grows, so does the potential for more matches. The matchmaking process begins with the newly diagnosed woman speaking with a representative and identifying the top characteristics that she would like in a guide. For sisterhood member Therese McKenna, it was important to have a fitness-minded guide with whom she could talk about nutrition and exercise. One of the most impressive features of the process is the timeline of the matches: New members are contacted within 24 hours and the sisterhood attempts to make a match in three days.
After the connection is made, the development of the relationship is fully in the hands of the two Firefly sisters. While many connections develop into lasting friendships, the sisterhood stresses that a long-term relationship is not mandatory. “These women are dealing with intense emotional burden. We don’t want them to feel obligated to carry any more than they are already carrying,” Newcomer says. The Firefly Sisterhood also has a rule that the guides should not influence any medical decisions; the focus is to remain on emotional support.
“My guide was a great listener,” McKenna says about her guide Denise. When McKenna was in the most challenging part of her chemotherapy, it was so painful that she had almost convinced herself to stop the treatment. “Looking back, I know that wasn’t a realistic option, and Denise must have felt that when I told her. But she never told me that,” McKenna says. “She just continued to listen and to help me explore what I was feeling.”
McKenna finished her rounds of treatment in April 2015 and is currently in remission; she joined the Firefly Sisterhood in May, this time as a guide. McKenna says she couldn’t join the sisterhood fast enough, and she dreams of the day that Firefly is available to women everywhere. “I don’t know how any woman goes through this without having this relationship—a deep connection with a woman who understands. It made all the difference.”