Lessons learned from a cancer clinic volunteer

November 7, 2007 by  
Filed under CANCER

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A few weeks back, I mentioned how I decided to start volunteering at my local cancer center.  After completing the orientation and waiting two weeks to get my background check, I finally finished my first shift as a volunteer this morning.

Today I trained with a more experienced volunteer who, like most of the volunteers at this particular institution, has decided to donate her efforts after someone close to her had been diagnosed with cancer.  She gave me a quick orientation, and we were off — in the four hours’ time that we spent on our shift at the diagnostic clinic, we assisted nearly 400 patients from the waiting area to the phlebotomists’ rooms to get their blood drawn.

A lessons learned from my first day as a volunteer:

1.  It’s pretty likely that someone else is having a worse day than me, and they’re probably more cheerful that my grumpy self.   I’ll admit it:  I was cranky this morning because I had stayed up late working, slept right through the alarm clock, AND hit traffic on my way in.  By the time I checked into the volunteer office, I was fifteen minutes late and had my full-fledged grumpy pants on.  About five minutes into my training session, I started to feel really foolish.  Many of the people that I met that day had just been diagnosed in the last few weeks and had the regular patterns of their lives disrupted, yet they were remarkably cheerful.  It sure put things in perspective and it made me feel silly for being so selfish.

2.  Everyone who spends time doing cancer research ought to spend some time with patients if they don’t already.  Before my recent move, I had been working at the bench-top to help validate a new chemotherapeutic for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).  One of the things that made it really difficult on the research end was to find funding for our projects — often times, we’d have to justify to our funding sources why we would want to spend our time finding treatments for diseases where “only” 30,000 Americans every year were diagnosed.  It’s hard after seeing patients to put an “only” before any number, no matter how small.  When I go back to to the laboratory next year, you can be sure that I’ll have a better grasp on why it is so very important to find better ways to treat and manage all stages of cancer.

3.  There are volunteer positions to match every kind of personality and disposition there is.  At MD Anderson, there are over 70 different ways a person can volunteer.  You can choose a position depending on the different degrees of patient contact you want, personal disposition, and skill levels.  While your particular institution probably doesn’t have quite as many as Anderson, please consider volunteering anyway.  Your volunteer coordinator will help you find something that suits your needs.

All in all, I don’t regret my decision to volunteer, and I hope that you get a chance to do so, as well! 

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