Woman to Watch: Betsy Twohig-Barrett

Woman to Watch: Betsy Twohig-Barrett

Arlene Hisiger  herrochester.com November 21, 2013

(Photo: Photo provided by Betsy Twohig-Barrett)


"I've never been one to see life in shades of black and white," said Betsy Twohig-Barrett, President and Chief Executive of Cancer Wellness Connections, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free diversionary activities and healthy snacks to people undergoing chemotherapy. "I've always seen things in shades of gray."

Shades of many colors are what drew Twohig-Barrett to what she thought would be a lifelong career as a fashion consultant. "I went into fashion because I liked the idea of fashion as an expression of who you are," she said. But after years of working in retail, Twohig-Barrett sought a position that provided greater substance. "I was looking for something that I would be enriched by and with which I would enrich others," she explained.

She found that combination in Cancer Wellness Connections.

"The idea that doing something for people that is small and simple (such as engaging people in conversation or a diversionary activity while they receive their treatment) but has profound impact, and provides a little bright moment at a critical time in their lives, is what drew me to this organization," Twohig-Barrett said.

Customer service, or as she refers to it, people skills, is an invaluable attribute that she brought to Cancer Wellness Connections from her experience in retail and volunteer work as president of the Pittsford rowing crew.

Twohig-Barrett believes that whether you are working in a for-profit environment or a non-profit organization, the focus remains the same: how to provide the best customer service, while maintaining the integrity of the organization you are working for. "The ultimate goal," she said, "is to listen to what people are saying, and to not necessarily go with what you think would be best."

This fundamental belief did not, however, guarantee that her work would be challenge free. "Challenges are when a situation does not meet your expectations," Twohig-Barrett said. "So you must realign your thought processes, figure out what you can control and what you have to work with, that's generally when new opportunities occur."

An obvious challenge for Twohig-Barrett, in spending time with people who are undergoing treatment, is that neither she nor any of her family has undergone chemotherapy. "I'm always touched that people allow me to be part of their experience," she said. "I get to be part of their lives for a moment and it is amazingly uplifting. We talk about everything from feral cats to family issues. There's definitely grace under pressure; the challenges they face are real and significant." Twohig-Barrett is energized by the heights of grace and courage to which people can rise under trying circumstances, something she has witnessed in treatment rooms across Rochester.

"It's easy, at first to be intimidated by a hospital setting," Twohig-Barrett said, "but it just becomes about the people." Eileen Grossman, founder of the organization, along with Dr. Cynthia Angel and Dr. Brent DuBeshter, articulated the organization's mantra to the staff and volunteers: "We deal with people, not patients."

Working at Cancer Wellness Connections has given Twohig-Barrett a renewed sense of optimism. "I'm so grateful to have a job that is so life affirming; it may seem contradictory to what this job would appear to be about, but it causes you to adjust your priorities, to realize what's really important in life," she said.