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When Gabby was diagnosed last January, we spent 3 weeks in the hospital.
If you've never had to spend 3 weeks in a hospital, I really don't recommend it. It's not super fun. Gabby was generally unhappy, understandably. The H straight quit his job, the day we received her diagnosis. I am a vacation time hoarder, so I had the time to spare, but I was the only person able to do a LOT of things at my job. My other kids were put upon, and I'm positive, despite our best efforts, felt pretty abandoned - one of us would spend the night at home, see them off, then head to the hospital, stay there until school was out, and then go home, help with homework, and bring dinner to the hospital. And switch.
It was a chaotic few weeks.
But every night, we had some lovely people visit us, trying to get Gabby to play a game, or bringing my older kids art projects, or walking a dog around to say hello in the cancer wing.
Those volunteers were not greeted kindly by Gabby. She was rude, she was impatient, and she was UNIMPRESSED, with everything they offered. And I get it. I mean, she's in this scary place, with people she doesn't know doing pretty awful things to her all day, all night, being told what she can eat, what she can't eat.
As a parent, it's always embarrassing when your kid is That Kid.
Those volunteers were uninterested in my apologies. They knew.
And those volunteers were really the first glimpse I had of hope.
When we were buried in the beginnings of leukemia, a lot of things seemed awful and with no chance of improving. I mean, what good is there to be found when you're told your child has cancer?
But there is so much good. SO MUCH. Don't get me wrong. Obviously having a kid with cancer is not ideal. But nothing in life is. Those volunteers demonstrated a commitment to hope, with every visit - no matter how many times Gabby rejected them, they kept trying. Every time, with a smile, with a new toy, with a different tactic. They were not going to be thwarted.
So, as Alene at Journey to Badwater guest posted about her impact as an infusion center nurse, Cely from Running off the Reese's has some rad stuff to say about volunteering.
Donating money - I know that it's asking a lot. And I appreciate every penny that has been donated. Every dollar helps. But volunteering is just as special and critical.
And Cely's way funny, so... enjoy. Be back later with some giveaways!
Not long after I first moved to the Texas coast and before I had any friends, a lady I met at work told me that her young daughter was in the local children’s hospital in the cancer wing. I couldn’t believe it. I knew children had cancer, but I had never known someone with a child who had cancer. Like most people I had lost family and friends to it, but I had always been lucky enough to never know a child with it. One day my co-worker was sick and she e-mailed me to ask me if I could go up to the hospital to visit with her daughter since she could not. I happily agreed and went. And I kept going, week after week until she was able to go home (and eventually go into remission!). I quit going for a few weeks after she left, but I quickly realized there was a hole in my heart that spending time with those kids had filled. Due to the nature of graduate school and my job there are times I don’t make it up there, but in the end I always go back. Volunteering is fun, and I hope that the following reasons will encourage you to do the same!
- Kids are funny. Seriously. And you know what? They think I’m funny too, which is a very nice change from being around adults. I go there thinking I’m going to cheer these kids up, but I always leave feeling much better than they do I’m sure. They heal my mental health and restore my sanity. This is not just from the realization that I’m fortunate that I am in such great health in comparison, it’s from their smiles, jokes, laughter, and triumphs. The kids are happy to see you, even on those awful days filled with pain and bad news, they are happy to see you. I don’t have children and I rarely get to spend time with any, so being around these kids is pure joy. Well at least for me it is, I assume they love it too.
- You can give back. I didn’t have any money when I first started volunteering. Between working full-time for less than $20,000 a year and paying tuition as a graduate student, I was always broke. If you don’t have money, you still have time. Trust me, you do have the time. I volunteered a few hours each week while I worked full time and was taking 12 hours in a doctoral program. You can make time for the things that are important. Your physical presence is a gift to a hospital full of children. There is always someone who would love to spend an hour talking to you, reading with you, or playing video games with you.
- You don’t need special skills. That is what nurses and doctors are for. Take what you can do and go with it. There are children who toddlers all the way up to teenagers. Figure out who you interact best with and go do it. Especially if you are male, there are so many boys in the hospital that would love to play video games with you or talk football. Start a fantasy football league with them or go kill some zombies. It doesn’t matter because they will love it. I volunteer with teenagers because most people go to the little kids (I mean who wouldn’t? You can’t tell me that reading to silly squealing four-year olds isn’t the most fun thing you’ve ever done. I dare you.). I usually bring movies (like The Notebook, Mean Girls, anything with Zac Efron...) and magazines. We sit and talk trash about the Kardashians or debate who is the biggest skeeze on Jersey Shore. We play board games, read (I almost got my arm ripped off when I had to leave in the middle of the final Twilight book), talk about stupid people, talk about love, discuss colleges (and you better believe I always push Texas Tech, no shame, no shame), and recently discussed our mutual hate of open-toed booties. You don’t have to deliver medication, work in the library, or clean up after anyone, tell the hospital staff some of the things you like and they will help you find a fit.
- You will meet people. I spent the first year in my new city without a single friend. I had one acquaintance and she was not even nice to me. Going to the hospital filled a void for human interaction outside of work. I met nurses, doctors, and parents, several of whom I am still friends with. Weekends could be very lonely, but just spending a few hours on a Sunday afternoon changed that. Going to the hospital also helped me heal and get over break-ups, as well as saving me from sitting at home eating box after box of Fruit Loops with my hands. And you know what teenage girls love to talk about? Your love life (obviously edited for age appropriateness). So if you are bored, sad, or lonely, go volunteer with kids and you will leave a happy and fulfilled person.
- You could meet a hot doctor. Or anesthesiologist. Or nurse. It could happen right? Might as well go to the mother-ship if you seeking one.
- You will feel like a better person. I know the point of volunteering is to give back, but you can’t leave without feeling better. Everything we do matters, so do something good with that time. Help out some parents who are in one of the worst situations of their lives and might just need a few hours to get some air or take a shower.
- It looks good on your resume and impresses people. I think people who volunteer are more ethical, responsible, and kind (this is my own stereotype obviously). These are people I want to hire. I don’t want selfish jerks who are always out for themselves. I want a trustworthy person who works well with others and I think volunteering is one way to demonstrate this to people.
- You have to be mentally strong. Sometimes kids don’t make it. It’s always hard and painful, even when they needed to go. There is no worse feeling than going back after a few weeks and finding out someone is gone. But, even though it is constantly heartbreaking, I keep going back because there are still so many kids fighting. It matters that someone takes time to hang out with them and listen to their stories. After a long time it is hard for the parents to stay upbeat and cheerful, how could they? Volunteers can provide a fun break for the kids because they can spend time with someone whose entire life is not about their cancer. And you can spend an hour debating whether Snooki uses a bump-it.
Volunteering has meant more to me than I could ever imagine. It has trivialized so many things that had formerly been all-consuming for me. Despite what many people believe, you don’t leave feeling guilty because you have been lucky so far, you leave feeling happy for the kids you got to spend time with. Most hospitals I’ve worked with require a very small commitment of time (two or three hours a week), so, if you can, think about how you can