People Living Through Cancer has developed on three levels: its philosophy has matured; its services have been refined and expanded; and its organizational structure has grown and become more secure.
Along with these developments came recognition locally, statewide, and nationally as well as the respect as a model organization with genuine heart and high standards of service.
People Living Through Cancer, 1983-2001:
A Brief Narrative from a PLTC founder
In 1983, five Albuquerque women made a commitment to establish an organization that would link together the lives of people who were living with cancer. We knew immediately that it felt right, even when there was only a handful of us. What we did not know was that this organization we called “Living Through Cancer,” later to become “People Living Through Cancer,” would have an impact every year on thousands of families facing cancer and would improve the quality of their lives.
Grounded in thousands of shared cancer experiences
It is through the process of sharing with many other survivors and family members, that we learned that we could best support others by helping them find their own answers, based on their personal values and lifestyles.
PLTC fulfills this role by providing non-judgmental, moral support and improved access to reliable information. Over the years, PLTC has held firmly to its grassroots identity as a peer support organization. The sharing of our stories is our most fundamental activity. As such, we see the organization as a kind of repository of the wisdom and knowledge that thousands have gained through their cancer experiences. These experiences are passed along to others who are drawn into this developing culture we now call cancer survivorship.
PLTC has become increasingly committed to helping cancer survivors become well informed about their healthcare options and motivated to advocate for themself within the healthcare system. The organization also values political advocacy and the PLTC staff and volunteers have participated actively on local and national panels, councils, and advisory groups since the early 1990s.
Guided by the needs of the growing PLTC community
PLTC’s services have always developed in response to the expressed needs of cancer survivors and their families. Peer support through group sessions and one-to-one consultation has always been the most requested service.
Beginning with one group of four women in 1983, the number of groups sponsored by PLTC grew to approximately fifteen by the mid 1990s, serving hundreds of group members. Each group is facilitated by volunteers who are cancer survivors or family members and meets several times a month.
The organization began with a conference in 1983. Since then, annual conferences and a variety of educational and experiential workshops have remained an important part of PLTC’s services.
Beginning in its first year, PLTC regularly has published a periodical, the Journal, that is still distributed to a growing mailing list and through Albuquerque healthcare facilities.
In the mid 1980s, an onsite lending library was established. It soon grew to the largest collection in New Mexico of literature, audiotapes, videotapes, and other material related to cancer survivorship.
PLTC has developed two training programs that help maintain the quality of PLTC’s programs and promote the PLTC model. The first one, initially developed in the mid 1980s, is a three day program called “Cancer Survivorship: Together We Walk the Path.” It acquaints PLTC’s new group facilitators and others interested in peer support programs with PLTC’s philosophy. It also provides the skills and knowledge necessary to facilitate non-judgmental peer support.
The second training, “Cancer Survivorship in Indian Country,” is a week-long national training for American Indians and Alaska Natives who are interested in starting survivorship programs in their communities. This training program began in 1996 and was developed in consultation with “A Gathering of Cancer Support,” a Pueblo Indian program that operated as part of PLTC for four years.
In the early 1990s, PLTC implemented specific strategies designed to reach Albuquerque’s diverse populations. At the same time, PLTC increased its efforts to build a diverse Board of Directors. Since then the Board and its leadership have closely reflected the racial and cultural mix in the community at large.
PLTC and its staff members have received several awards in recognition of its outreach efforts, including a 1996 award from the National Cancer Institute.
In 1997, PLTC added an outreach program dedicated to reaching the diverse communities throughout the state. It supports and promotes culturally appropriate services for cancer survivors and their families, encourages participation in PLTC’s training programs, and manages the Leadership Council, a statewide network of cancer peer support leaders that meets twice a year.
Seeding New Survivor Organizations
PLTC has been the home of a number of other organizations. In 1986, it was the founding organization of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS). It housed NCCS until 1991 when it moved to the nation’s capital to become one of the leading cancer survivor advocacy organizations.
Other organizations functioned as part of PLTC until they were ready for independent status, including the Prostate Cancer Support Association of New Mexico, the New Mexico Breast Cancer Coalition and A Gathering of Cancer Support.
Currently, “On Borrowed Time” is an umbrella organization of People Living Through Cancer. This group shares their story through art and readings about their cancer experiences.
Clear goals, skilled leadership
PLTC’s organizational development, as well as its services, are guided by a formal strategic planning process that involves staff, Board of Directors, and other volunteers.
The first five-year strategic plan was published in the summer of 1991. Accompanied by the organization’s first business plan, it was followed by a burst of growth, including a substantial increase in the number of people served, a significant increase in the organization’s budget, and a period of financial stability that has been sustained since then. The second five-year plan was published in 1997, followed by PLTC’s current plan, published in 2002 .
Since PLTC was established as a 501(c) 3 corporation in 1984, volunteerism has been its foundation. The organization could not have sustained the scope and quality of its programs, nor the organizational structure it needed, without hundreds of active volunteers working in a wide variety of capacities.
Many dedicated and skilled volunteers and staff members have contributed to the successes of the organization. In the early years of the organization, there was no paid staff. In 2001, the organization had six employees.
What is most important about the history of People Living Through Cancer is that its staff and volunteers touch people’s lives on a daily basis and are willing to listen to their concerns, look into their eyes and take whatever time is needed to be there with someone in crisis because of a cancer diagnosis or recurrence.
PLTC is a membership organization and receives dues, donations, and support of fundraising events from thousands of people every year. It also has received major support from foundations, small businesses, and corporations.
In the mid 1990s, PLTC began a contractual relationship with the Indian Health Service (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), and since 1995, the organization has been awarded annual contracts by the New Mexico Department of Health. Current grants include the United Way and the Komen Foundation.