In 2005, Benjamin Chang had just graduated from Stanford University and was eager to start a career in mechanical engineering when he started to lose his vision.
It began slowly. First, his depth perception disappeared, which caused him to misjudge distances between objects and bump into furniture. As his condition worsened, he began tripping over curbs and could no longer go for a run or ride a bike — his two favorite activities — because he felt off-balance.
“I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I knew something was wrong,” recalls Chang.
After visiting his mother over the winter break, he made the decision to leave California and move back in with his family in Houston.
Chang immediately went to see an ophthalmologist and was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor that was pushing on his optic nerve, causing the vision loss.
After undergoing surgery, his mother’s best friend urged him to seek treatment at MD Anderson, where he received 28 days of radiation. He also went through six months of physical therapy and met with a counselor — both helped him cope
with the physical and emotional stress of his vision loss.
As a young adult with cancer, it wasn’t easy for Chang to move back in with his parents and come to grips with the loss of his sight and his independence.
“At first I was angry,” he says. “Although it was frustrating, I tried to understand others’ viewpoints and remain calm.”
He also found it helpful to be upfront with people about his diagnosis, instead of allowing others to make assumptions about him and his abilities.
Though Chang thought everyone at MD Anderson was very kind, what really stood out to him were the volunteers. They came by each morning to offer magazines and conversation, which made him comfortable. They made him feel that he was not alone, and brightened his days in the hospital. This inspired him to become a volunteer himself.
Chang says “that he volunteers not for himself, but to give back.” He says it’s more rewarding for him than the people he serves.
Chang began volunteering in December 2011 after serving two years as a member of MD Anderson’s Adolescent and Young Adult Advisory Council. Made up of former patients and employees, the council meets monthly to find new ways to enhance the experiences of young patients.
Today, he puts on his blue volunteer jacket every Thursday morning before his shift in the Mays Clinic Hospitality Center, where he offers patients and caregivers coffee, tea and refreshments. More importantly, he and his fellow volunteers offer hope, support, laughter and helpful information.
Chang now works for an environmental engineering firm. His condition is stable and he follows up with his MD Anderson team once a year. His outlook is bright and he continues to look ahead to the future.
“I tell patients to keep looking forward and have a positive attitude,” he says. “I know that it can be hard, but I tell them
to take things as they are.”
MD Anderson’s first Hospitality Center opened in 1987.
Today, its two hospitality centers average more than 114,500 visitors a year. Each weekday from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., myCancerConnection survivor and caregiver volunteers staff the centers and offer free coffee, tea, crackers or cookies to patients and caregivers.
To learn more about volunteering at MD Anderson, call 713-792-JOIN.
Main Building Floor 2, near The Sundial
Mays Clinic Floor 2, near Elevator T, ACB 2.1002