When my parents were undergoing cancer treatment in the 1980s and early 2000s, I didn’t know how to help them cope with their diagnoses. I was so overwhelmed with the medical aspects of their treatment that it never occurred to me that I should be also focusing on the little things that could make life easier for them.
So six years ago, I decided to volunteer as a tribute to them. I applied to volunteer at MD Anderson because I knew they treated cancer. I had no idea that I was going to become part of such an extensive support system for patients and caregivers.
Joining MD Anderson as a volunteer
During orientation, I learned all the different ways MD Anderson can help patients beyond treatment: the educational pamphlets in waiting areas and The Learning Center, the Integrative Medicine Center, the social work counselors and the support groups, to name a few.
And then of course there’s us, the volunteers. Before I donned my blue jacket, I thought volunteers only fielded phone calls and sat behind welcome desks. I didn’t realize that at MD Anderson, they also visit patients in the hospital, serve beverages and snacks, offer complimentary scarves to patients and much more.
When I volunteered at the Endoscopy Center in MD Anderson’s Main Building, I helped prepare exam rooms and provided support to staff as needed. Even though I didn’t work directly with patients, my responsibilities allowed nurses to spend more time with them.
Now I volunteer twice a week at MD Anderson in Bay Area. The move not only shortened my commute to just 10 minutes, but it’s also allowed me to interact with patients.
Understanding the big impact of small gestures
Because MD Anderson in Bay Area is much smaller than the Texas Medical Center Campus, I frequently see the same patients every week and engage them in conversation. They seem to appreciate having someone take their mind off treatment, if only for a moment. And watching their courage as they fight cancer inspires me.
Volunteering has helped me realize that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a difference in a cancer patient’s life. Something as simple as offering a hot cup of coffee, a cold cup of water or a warm blanket can be enough to remind patients that they’re not facing this fight alone. Even if our only interaction is an exchanged smile, I feel I’ve accomplished something that day.
With every volunteer shift, I hope that my efforts bring each patient I encounter some peace of mind. I wish I’d been able to do more of this for my parents when they were undergoing cancer treatment, but I know they’d be proud that I’m doing it now for others who need that same support.
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