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Giving the Patient Survivor and Volunteer Perspective

Volunteer Voice - Spring 2010

Volunteers Serve on MD Anderson Committees

Volunteers always make significant contributions at MD Anderson, often changing the way a day is going for a patient or a caregiver. But volunteers also contribute in many other ways to the cancer center by serving on institutional committees, subcommittees and work groups.

“Our institutional leaders recognize that volunteers, especially those who have been patients, have a great deal to offer in the way of advice and experience,” says Susan French, executive director of Volunteer Services. “I get many requests for these survivor volunteers and I put careful thought into who might be the right fit for each group requesting a volunteer representative.”

 Frank McCreary, a survivor of both prostate cancer and lymphoma, is one such volunteer whose expertise has been called upon. A lawyer by profession, McCreary was originally a retiree when he began to volunteer. Today, however, you’ll find him back working full time in the law offices of Vinson & Elkins LLP Attorneys at Law.

Employment, however, has not slowed McCreary down. He remains an active substitute in the Anderson Network Hospitality Center and currently serves on the Anderson Network Steering Committee. For three years, McCreary has also been a patient representative on the Cancer Survivorship Steering Committee, which is composed of both faculty and administrative senior leadership, and additionally has served on the committee’s Clinical Care Workgroup.

Like others on institutional committees, McCreary believes that his role is to provide the patient/survivor perspective. “I speak up when I feel I can contribute,” he says, “and, honestly, I’m pleased at the progress we have made on the survivorship project. Sometimes, the leadership asks me questions and I’m privileged to offer my opinion. Just my being there is a good reminder that this is all about the survivors.”

Another patient survivor whose knowledge has been tapped is Mary Kay Dauria. A longtime Anderson Network volunteer, she was chairman of the Anderson Network Steering Committee in 2007 and chairman of the Anderson Network Survivorship Conference in 2008. A 10-year breast cancer survivor, she is active on the Survivorship Support and Outreach Subcommittee and has also served on the Support Services Workgroup for this group. Currently, she is on the Communications and Public Outreach Workgroup, where she helps fellow members develop, implement and communicate cancer survivor education and information processes, services and resources for MD Anderson patients and community audiences.

Dauria agrees with McCreary that her role on the committees she works on is to bring the patient/survivor perspective. “It’s helpful to have this voice in the room,” she says. “Until you are a patient, you have no idea how cancer changes your life and impacts it for the long term. This understanding is something I can offer patients. Although I am unable to commit to a regular volunteer schedule, I am able to use my skills in other ways to make a difference.”

Kay Warhol serves on the Psychosocial Council chaired by Alma Rodriguez, M.D., and Frank Tortorella, vice president for Clinical Support Services. In addition, Warhol is on the council’s education workgroup.

Warhol, a breast cancer survivor and Pink Ribbon volunteer since 2006, enjoys the larger council meetings every other month, but especially appreciates the work she does on the education subcommittee.

“Basically, I listen to the presentations and offer comments from the perspective of a survivor and a volunteer,” Warhol says. “The education group is smaller and our job is to recommend how to highlight and improve the psychosocial services offered by MD Anderson. Because this group has fewer members, I have more of a voice and opportunity to offer the patient perspective.”

The work she does on the council and its subcommittee is also informative to her as a volunteer, Warhol explains. “We have many opportunities to learn, but these groups give me a more in-depth look at what is available for patients,” Warhol says.

Caroline Sabin, who is a community resource volunteer, brings a wealth of leadership expertise to her role as chair of the Volunteer Services Teen Scholarship Committee. Sabin, who has chaired this committee since 2001, works with a committee of Volunteer Services staff and a Gift Shop volunteer. This group has the daunting task of selecting the recipients of Gift Shop scholarships each year. From a pool of outstanding teens, the committee reads applications and accompanying essays to determine the awardees.

Sabin, whose mother is a cancer survivor, explains that the teens write essays on the importance that this hospital volunteer service has had on their lives. In addition, comments from their volunteer coordinators are heavily weighed.
“For the most part, these are all intelligent young adults who enjoy giving back to their community,” Sabin says. “If I could, I would like to give them all a scholarship.”

French explains that volunteers who serve on institutional committees must be willing to speak up in a group and be interested in sharing their experiences as a patient or volunteer. As the executive director of Volunteer Services, she is interested in receiving a regular report from all of these volunteers to learn about the activities of the groups they work with.

McCreary, Dauria, Warhol and Sabin are just a few of the numerous volunteers who serve on institutional committees. Each brings a special skill set to the groups they work with and are important in the way MD Anderson works.

French says that there is a great deal of interest from the institution’s leaders for patient/survivor support on many committees. “People listen to these volunteers and they play active roles within the groups,” French says. “We’re proud to have all of them representing Volunteer Services.”

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