Valentina and Olena, a Cultural Connection

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Meet Valentina and Olena. Originally from Ukraine, Olena is a client in our Margot Murphy Women’s Cancer Program who is monolingual Russian-speaking. Valentina, who was born and raised in the Republic of Moldova, is Olena’s Peer Support Volunteer. Matched since 2018, they share similar experiences as immigrants from the former Soviet Union and communicate in Russian. Conversations and sharing perspectives came easy for them, and they quickly established trust.

“She could be my mother,” says Valentina of Olena. “We share a culture, have a deep connection and are a good match.” The pair speak highly of each other and their relationship. They talk on the phone weekly, meet up for walks, and try different restaurants for lunch. Sometimes Valentina stops by on her way home from work and helps translate legal documents. “The best part of our relationship is when she calls and cheers me up,” says Olena.

Olena agrees that the client/volunteer connection needs to be strong. She advises volunteers to be patient, listen, and get to know their clients. She feels that although a volunteer aims to do well, they must be compatible with their match to achieve a deeper relationship.

Valentina is encouraged by Olena’s fortitude. “She’s in pain, but she keeps going. Her attitude and the way she handles her Illness are commendable,” says Valentina. “I feel like I get more out of this relationship than she does, just the way she continues to fight and her attitude is inspiring.”

Valentina immigrated to the United States alone in 2008 when she was 21 years old. Frustrated by the chaos and fight for independence in her home country, she longed to feel a sense of belonging instead of being restless and depressed. She wanted to train herself to give back unconditionally. It eased Valentina’s loneliness to give back and connect with a community. She says, “I align with Shanti’s holistic philosophy and how they treat the staff, volunteers, and clients. This way is sustainable.”

Valentina feels empowered by helping others. “It connects me to someone in need. I can help people who are lonely and are suffering from a disease or condition which only compounds their loneliness and need for connection.”

In addition to the support she receives from Valentina, Olena appreciates the services that our Women’s Cancer Program offers. She says, “Shanti is a great organization that has helped me a lot with food, clothing, and transportation. Shanti has been responsive and understanding of my needs, for which I am so grateful.”

Valentina has a message to any potential volunteers, “Being there counts more than you’d think. It means a lot to Olena and me to know that there is someone you can call, someone whose life is outside of being sick and lonely. It kind of became a ritual of “feel good” experiences on both sides. Someone needs you. Volunteering makes the world a better place.”


Thank you to Valentina for the language interpretation and translation for our interview with Olena.

If you are interested in becoming a Peer Support Volunteer, please complete a volunteer application. Age requirement: 18+.

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