• Volunteer Profiles

    Dana-Farber volunteer honored for tireless service

    debbie-falcione.jpgVolunteer Debbie Falcione with Susan DeCristofaro, RN, MS, director of Patient and Family Education. 

    Debbie Falcione has helped hundreds of patients during her long tenure as a Dana-Farber volunteer, but she never expected that her younger brother would be one of them.

    "It was about five years after I started here; I remember being in his hospital room after his surgery for a sarcoma in his arm," explains Falcione, who was honored June 10, 2008, with the Sidney Farber Award as the Institute's volunteer of the year.

    "He had a roommate, and I started talking with him about the resources we have available here just like I always do when I'm visiting inpatients. Looking over and seeing my own brother in the next bed seemed almost surreal."

    A veteran of more than 2,100 volunteer hours at Dana-Farber over 13 years, Falcione says the experience of accompanying her brother to many of his appointments made her a better volunteer. "I could see and understand more of what patients go through."

    Her brother is now cancer-free, and these insights still form much of the expertise Falcione brings to her Wednesday afternoon shifts as she meets with patients and their families in the Blum Patient and Family Resource Center on Dana 1 and with Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center inpatients staying at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

    Falcione says the biggest change she's seen during her tenure is that "people are more involved than ever with their care today."

    Her role is to help address the needs of patients, whether they are seeking transportation or housing, want to join a support group here or near their home, or are interested in learning more about clinical trials, treatment options, or complementary therapies like massage or acupuncture.

    Falcione's dedication extends to other volunteers, five of whom she has trained to "round" with patients as she does.

    "Debbie started when the Blum Center was just getting off the ground, and she pioneered the role of being an advocate for the center with the inpatient community," says Susan DeCristofaro, RN, MS, director of Patient and Family Education.

    "She sees anywhere from 17 to 20 patients in one shift, and even if oncology patients are not on Dana-Farber-designated floors at the Brigham, she'll go all around the hospital seeking them out. Her devotion and knowledge are incredible."

    The Sidney Farber Award is accompanied by a $2,500 honorarium from longtime Institute benefactors Rowena and Charles Simberg, earmarked for a Dana-Farber research or patient care program of the recipient's choice. Falcione is directing hers to the Friends Boutique Caregiver Bag Program.

    In total, 303 onsite volunteers of all ages contributed 33,222 hours to Dana-Farber and its partnering facilities in 2007, doing everything from giving hand massages in infusion clinics to traversing the halls with book carts to helping with mailings. An additional 115 individuals cancer survivors or caregivers shared their experiences by phone with newer patients through One-to-One: The Cancer Connection.

    In addition to Falcione, other volunteers honored for long-term service included Barbara Lapp, Nancy Potter, and Fifi Swerling-Kellem (30-year awards); Mary Ann Chase, Dana Jackson, Harriet Kantrowitz, and Phyllis Sacks (20-year awards); and Jane May and Roberta McNulty (stepping down after a dozen years of co-managing the Friends Corner Gift Shop).

    "We had 157 new volunteers last year, and very little turnover," says Thomas Edward, Director of Volunteer Services. "More people are hearing about us and asking to come aboard."

    As the Institute prepares to expand its clinical space and services in the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, slated to open in 2011, Edward says volunteers will be needed more than ever.

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