When the staff at Cancer Support Community (CSC) Arizona heard about the Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) digital sherpa™ Train-the-Trainer program, they knew it was just the kind of programming they were looking for. “We wanted to be able to help the more vulnerable members of our community,” says Caitlin Morrissey, CSC Arizona’s Executive Administrative Coordinator. The goal was to help make things easier for the cancer patients they serve, and Caitlin says that helping patients to navigate things like social media and ride shares, and helping them to connect with loved ones as well as their healthcare providers through PEN’s digital sherpa™ program, was a great way to start.
The digital sherpa™ program is designed to help cancer patients (who are mainly 65 and older) learn to use technology as a tool to help them through their cancer journey. Patients and their care partners can learn basic internet and social media skills. They can also learn how to access their patient portals and find information and support regarding their illness. Patients can also have their specific technology-related questions answered. Organizations who want to implement the digital sherpa™ program can utilize the digital sherpa™ Train-the-Trainer program, which is designed to do exactly what it says. The program trains volunteers and other individuals to be trainers, or sherpas, for the digital sherpa™ program.
“It’s an amazing program and I’m excited to be a part of it,” says Caitlin who started overseeing the digital sherpa™ and the digital sherpa™ Train-the-Trainer programs shortly after CSC Arizona adopted them in early December 2021. Despite beginning the program during the busy holiday season and while their offices were still operating remotely due to the pandemic, Caitlin has already seen impactful results. She says participants are relieved and excited when they learn what their devices can do, and they have provided very positive feedback through program surveys. Participant Arcelia Lopez said the program gave her access to a new world.
“From the very beginning to the end was an opportunity to have an experience that opened a new world,” Arcelia wrote. “This was a lifesaving experience that I embraced. Everything that was offered and designed was so conducive to learning and building self-confidence.”
Arcelia’s survey responses solidified Caitlin’s passion for the program. “It was amazing to have that feedback from her. It really drives home how important this is,” says Caitlin.
In 2021, organizations like CSC Arizona, that participated in the digital sherpa™ Train-the-Trainer program received a $2,500 microgrant from PEN to help offer the program to their communities. CSC Arizona didn’t waste any time putting their microgrant to good use. Director of Operations Kyle Jones recognized that some of their community members didn’t have access to computers or devices, so he purchased several Chromebooks for participants to use for the digital sherpa™ workshops. CSC Arizona was also able to give Chromebooks to two individuals, one of which was Arcelia. “Having the gift of the Chromebook changed my life mentally and emotionally and secured my future in having the confidence I needed to maintain my health. It changed me in a way that I didn’t know was possible. It allows me to live in a way that I didn’t know was possible,” wrote Arcelia in response to the program.
Caitlin says that implementing the digital sherpa™ Train-the-Trainer program was seamless. She says the program was easy to follow, could be completed online, and didn’t take too much time so they were able to offer help to patients right away. In a short time, CSC Arizona has already used the digital sherpa™ Train-the-Trainer program to create a lasting impact in their community. Their fledgling program of trainers includes Caitlin, Kyle Jones, and one outside volunteer. They have offered small group workshops, one-on-one trainings, and have made a house call. Thanks to the online aspects of the program, they were even able to help a patient in Illinois who discovered that they were offering the program and reached out for some help. Going forward Caitlin wants to build the program. She wants to recruit more volunteers and she is already introducing the digital sherpa™ program to new patients as they come into CSC Arizona. She looks forward to adding regular group sessions but also continuing to offer the one-on-one sessions to anyone who needs them. Caitlin also has plans to create and offer the digital sherpa™ workshops specifically geared toward Spanish speaking participants. “I’m really excited to continue offering it and making it better and better as we go along,” she says.
Caitlin and the rest of team at CSC Arizona are utilizing the digital sherpa™ Train-the-Trainer program to empower and make a difference in the lives of the cancer patients they serve. “Every detail is looked at and every detail is considered,” Arcelia noted in her survey. “It creates an opportunity to not allow cancer to win.”
Jennifer Lessinger is a professional writer and editor who learned the value of patient empowerment during her struggle with a hard-to-diagnose and complex endocrine disorder.