A peer-based counselling office has opened at the Pirogov Clinic of High Medical Technologies of St Petersburg University. Patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer can be consulted by women who have already successfully completed a treatment course for the same disease and are now in remission.

Peer-based counselling is implemented in several regions of Russia. In the Northwest District, the Pirogov Clinic is the first health care institution to join the project. Its launch was timed to the beginning of October – the month of the fight against breast cancer. However, the organisers emphasised that this is not a limited time offer, and from now on the office will work at the clinic on a continuous basis.

What is important is that any woman who wants to get answers to her questions can make an appointment for peer-based counselling. This is regardless of which medical centre she is under the care of. ‘We are open to all. The service is absolutely free of charge,’ said Vladimir Vorotnikov, a breast oncologist at the University clinic and a project manager. According to him, breast cancer is currently the most common cancer among women. ‘When a woman is diagnosed with cancer, the reaction is always very strong, because in our society there is a certain stereotype: cancer is not treatable, people die of it. For any person, this is a huge stress. But it is important to know that breast cancer can be treated quite well, even in the fourth stage,’ he underlined.

A peer counsellor is a woman who has received effective treatment for cancer and is in remission. 

Former patients can be role models and show that cancer can really be treated and is being treated quite successfully and that they have already gone through it and are right in front of you.

Vladimir Vorotnikov, a breast oncologist at the University clinic

The organisers also said that when a patient is faced with such a diagnosis, conversations with the doctor are often limited only to specific issues related directly to the treatment regimen. Personal, sometimes uncomfortable, questions are left out. Doctors believe that such questions are not asked due to mentality, beliefs, and patient stereotypes regarding a doctor, or simply due to lack of time. So, for example, patients sometimes do not even try to find out how their personal life, appearance, habits, relationships with loved ones, and their general emotional state will change during the treatment. ‘Our project is not a substitute for a psychologist, much less a doctor, it is an addition to them and it has been created to make the life of our women more comfortable,’ said Vladimir Vorotnikov.

To make an appointment, call +7 (911) 027–72–04 (weekdays from 11 am to 6 pm).

All volunteers, long before talking to patients, take a special six-month training course (lectures, seminars, and trainings) from medical psychologists and oncologists, and receive a certificate. Such training is carried out by the ‘Women's Health’ charity programme of the Aleksandra Foundation for Social Support of Women together with the doctors of the University clinic. Tatiana Golovanova, the head of the Aleksandra Foundation, said that mistakes in communicating with patients are eliminated due to double control: the work of a counsellor is observed by a supervisor and a physician in charge.

Ekaterina Bashta, the director of the Women's Health programme of the Aleksandra Foundation for Social Support of Women; Tatiana Golovanova, the project organizer and the head of the Aleksandra Foundation; Svetlana Gavrilova, a clinical psychologist and the project manager in St Petersburg

Despite the fact that the project has only been implemented in the Pirogov Clinic for a little over two weeks, the first patients are already using the service. Vladimir Vorotnikov also said that it is too early to talk about any results achieved, but the feedback received by the doctors is positive. According to oncologists, if the testing of all processes is successful then the list of diseases can be expanded.

Doctors call such an office ‘an office of psychological relief’. ‘It is important for everyone to understand that they are not the only people who have faced such a challenge, they are not alone, and that there is a solution to this problem,’ added Vladimir Vorotnikov.