Hospital Volunteers Help Make Mesothelioma Treatment More Bearable
by Nancy Meredith
Most cancer centers lean on a network of volunteers to help keep the patients and their families comfortable during their many hospital visits and appointments. They also help keep the centers running smoothly. Duke University Hospital says their volunteers “are a vital part of the health care we provide to the more than half a million patients who visit us each year.” Mesothelioma patients have learned that they can also lean on these volunteers during the countless hours they must spend in the oncology centers during their chemotherapy treatments.
Treatment of pleural mesothelioma, a pulmonary cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, typically involves radiation and chemotherapy. The most common chemotherapy agents used is a combination therapy utilizing pemetrexed and cisplatin. Treatment involves cycles of chemotherapy that could have the mesothelioma patient in the oncology center weekly, often for at least four hours at a time.
The time spent receiving chemotherapy can be stressful, but for many patients their day gets better when their favorite volunteer enters the room. Many of the volunteers in the cancer centers battled cancer themselves or watched family members fight the disease, and they want to give back to the community that helped them in their time of need.
In “Why I Volunteer at MD Anderson,” an entry on MD Anderson Cancer Center’s CancerWise blog, one volunteer wrote “Volunteering here is a way to witness how precious life is. The fact that you can brighten one person’s day just by sitting down and having a conversation, playing a game or reading a book is priceless.”
Both Duke University and MD Anderson volunteers say they have developed close relationships with patients and their families. While volunteers help the nurses and medical staff in the center, their primary focus is on the patients. Some days volunteers will sit and talk with patients, while other days they may focus on a family member that is having a hard time supporting their sick loved one.
Volunteers perform a variety of tasks, including:
- Bringing around snacks, drinks and newspapers,
- Delivering the lunch-of-the day on the lunch cart,
- Lending an ear,
- Covering a patient with a warm blanket,
- Running errands, such as taking family members to the café,
- Helping patients pick out a new hat when their hair begins thinning out.
Bessie Raper, a 94-year-old woman who has been volunteering for over 20 years at Duke, after being a nurse before that, has logged nearly 3,000 volunteer hours. She said the patients and staff keep her coming back. “I just enjoy people.”
The volunteer coordinator at the center said that her father-in-law who receives treatment at Duke “can’t remember the name of his doctor, but he knows all the volunteers by their first name.”