Help­ing others a vol­un­tary re­ac­tion

The Leader (Tasman) - - GOLDEN YEARS -

This week marks Na­tional vol­un­teer week, cel­e­brat­ing all of the count­less hours that peo­ple give freely to help in their com­mu­nity. Re­porter

shares her experience of vol­un­teer­ing first­hand by help­ing out at the Nel­son Hos­pi­tal on­col­ogy ward.

A woman sits read­ing a book with a drip at­tached into her left arm, just a faint fuzz re­mains of her hair. A nurse re­ar­ranges a heat pack on a man’s arm as the cold chem­i­cal cock­tail seeps into his sys­tem while a vol­un­teer in the kitchen starts her shift.

These were just some of the peo­ple on Nel­son Hos­pi­tal’s on­col­ogy ward and I was there from 9.30 un­til 12.30pm to vol­un­teer with the Cancer So­ci­ety.

I was Glo­ria Line­ham’s side­kick for the morn­ing. She has been vol­un­teer­ing at the clinic one day a week for five years since she re­tired.

The morn­ing flew by in a blur of kitchen du­ties, serv­ing food and hot drinks to the visi­tors in the clinic, be­ing an am­bas­sador for the Cancer So­ci­ety, re­stock­ing the linen and or­der­ing the food for up­com­ing days. Glo­ria said, ‘‘There’s al­ways some­thing to do.’’

I couldn’t have gone in there with­out Glo­ria show­ing me the ropes - and I’m still not com­pletely sure how many pil­low cases in the cup­board is enough or what ex­actly to do when tal­ly­ing how much food is needed for the next day.

A few more morn­ings though and I would’ve had it down pat.

Vol­un­teer­ing for me was about the in­ter­ac­tion, whether it’s peo­ple, an­i­mals or na­ture, you’re out of your daily grind and ‘giv­ing back’, two lit­tle words that come up of­ten when the ‘c’ words are

‘‘Vol­un­teer­ing for me was about the in­ter­ac­tion, whether it’s peo­ple, an­i­mals or na­ture, you’re out of your daily grind and ’giv­ing back’.’’ Carly Gooch

around - com­mu­nity and char­ity.

On this day, the ‘c’ word was also cancer.

We vis­ited every pa­tient and every sup­port­ive fam­ily mem­ber who was by their loved one’s side, mak­ing sure not to blur the line be­tween nurse and vol­un­teer.

While the morn­ing tea ser­vice was a start­ing point for break­ing the ice with the six pa­tients in the room, the knit­ted hats of­fer­ing was like a snow plough.

Glo­ria and I took a bas­ket full of free woollen hats to the women around the room. The woman with the ‘faint fuzz’ was ex­cited to fos­sick through the dif­fer­ent coloured win­ter-warm­ers and tried sev­eral on. It was like women in a chang­ing room, ‘Oh that looks great!’ ‘Try the blue one.’ ‘How about this one?’

Just be­cause these peo­ple had cancer, it wasn’t a room full of gloom. Cancer didn’t de­fine them, they didn’t want to be treated like they were sick and they didn’t want pity. As Glo­ria said, ‘‘they’re nor­mal peo­ple.

Talk­ing to peo­ple around the clinic, it hit home just the sheer in­con­ve­nience of cancer and its months of treat­ment.

It was one woman’s first treat­ment. She was solv­ing a puz­zle on her tablet while her hus­band sat by her side on his lap­top. They were meant to be on hol­i­day in Amer­ica for five weeks in­stead they were side-by-side while she bat­tled ovar­ian cancer.

A mother, daugh­ter team was pass­ing the few hours on the ward chat­ting. Sarah Paul lived in Perth and had flown to Nel­son to visit her mum, Tanya McDon­ald dur­ing her try­ing time. Tanya took it all in her stride. It was her sec­ond treat­ment for non Hodgkin’s lym­phoma. A few women in her fam­ily had ‘‘been through the same sort of thing’’ so she knew what to ex­pect she said. Sarah said she thought it would be a lot harder, see­ing her mum go through chemo. ‘‘It’s about your at­ti­tude to­wards it and mum’s got a re­ally good at­ti­tude.’’

The most touch­ing cou­ple I met were Beth and Rodger Fitzsimmons. They had been mar­ried 54 years. Rodger had been get­ting treat­ment for mul­ti­ple myeloma at the clinic for eight years which was classed as pal­lia­tive care. Beth looked back on her life with fond mem­o­ries as we chat­ted. She said they had so much planned for their re­tire­ment and now all they could do was en­joy their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren and live vi­car­i­ously through them. ‘‘You just never know what’s around the cor­ner.’’

Rodger also told it like it was. ‘‘A bloody nui­sance’’ is how he re­ferred to the cancer. ‘‘The only trou­ble is my health packed up and it shouldn’t have.’’

Luck­ily, Rodger and Beth still had each other. ‘‘We’re a team’’ he said.

I wanted to hear more about their life but it was time to clear the last of the lunch dishes, take the re­cy­cling out and walk out of the hos­pi­tal with Glo­ria.

I left the experience feel­ing like I’d just walked out of a group hug. In my morn­ing that would oth­er­wise have been filled with house­work, I was do­ing some­thing that ben­e­fited a com­mu­nity.

PHOTO: BRADEN FASTIER/ FAIR­FAX NZ

Nel­son Mail re­porter Carly Gooch vol­un­teered at Nel­son Hos­pi­tal’s On­col­ogy Ward.

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