Helping others a voluntary reaction
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.
Nelson Mail reporter Carly Gooch volunteered at Nelson Hospital’s Oncology Ward.