Breast cancer survivor, volunteer: How I support other patients
During one of breast cancer survivor Margaret Looper’s early visits to MD Anderson some 15 years ago, a volunteer who escorted her to her appointments left a remarkable impression.
“She was just so cheerful. She was young, she had her volunteer jacket on and she had this long bouncing hair. I thought to myself, ‘How could this person be cheerful? Well, she’s never had cancer. That’s why she could be so cheerful,’” Margaret recalls. “Then she said something about her cancer, and I said, ‘Wait, you had cancer!?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, I’m a survivor.” And I thought, wow! And she got well!”
After that interaction, Margaret told her daughter, “When I get over this cancer, I’m going to try doing that.”
Shifting from breast cancer survivor to volunteer
Two years later, when Margaret was cancer-free, her daughter came across a newspaper article announcing the opening of MD Anderson in The Woodlands. Margaret, who lives in Montgomery County, thought it was the perfect volunteer opportunity. She contacted MD Anderson, and in the fall of 2004, she became the first volunteer to serve at The Woodlands location.
“I was the only volunteer for many years, and I was constantly changing what I did because we started off very small,” she says. “Whatever they asked me to do, I would do. I also just sort of looked for things to do.”
Like all MD Anderson volunteers, Margaret was trained on how to help patients who appear lost, cold, lonely or upset. And because of her experience as a patient, she makes a point of mentioning that she’s a survivor to patients who may need encouragement.
“They’re always kind of shocked. I’m 75, but I have a lot of energy. I buzz around all the time,” Margaret says. “I tell them that the best way to feel good about yourself is to think about others. When you do things for others, it makes you feel good. And you’re not thinking about yourself because that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that you’ve got the energy to do something for somebody else.”
Going above and beyond to support patients
Margaret’s support for patients doesn’t end there. She’s happy to hold patients’ hands or distract them with conversation during chemotherapy. She’s even found a way to support survivors after their treatment ends.
“The very first time I saw the bell ringing ceremony, I thought, ‘These patients need something to remember this accomplishment.’” She thought about what a man and a woman could use, and came up with a keychain with a little bell on the end.
In addition to volunteering each week, Margaret spends some of her spare time each month making three versions of the keychain: one for men, one for women and a pink and white one for breast cancer patients. In the past 13 years, she’s created thousands.
“They’re always very surprised and appreciative,” Margaret says of patients’ reactions. “I just love my job. I get to give people things and visit with all these wonderful people.”
Gratitude for MD Anderson
Margaret is thankful that MD Anderson is here for the patients she meets, just as it’s been for her and more recently, her daughter, who flies in from Kansas every month to undergo breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson in The Woodlands.
“We are absolutely happy that she's come to MD Anderson,” Margaret says. “Our family has the attitude: If you have cancer, no matter where you live, you need to go to MD Anderson.”