Volunteers sweeten experience at cancer infusion center

Vancouver | June 26, 2018
Staff and patients go all in to thank volunteer crew

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Grilled cheese. Soup. Crackers.

Snacks offered to infusion patients at PeaceHealth’s Cancer Center in Vancouver, Washington, are simple, nourishing and comforting…especially when served by fellow survivors who might have, at one point in their lives, sat in the very same chemo chair.

Many of the 11 volunteers at the center have had cancer themselves. Some are retired while others have full-time jobs and even with young children. They make time to help at the center day in and day out, according to Rochelle White, supervisor of clinical nursing at the center.

“We could not function without our wonderful volunteers,” she said. “They offer their time so freely once a week for three-four hours a day.”

The center cares for about 50 patients a day with lab draws, port maintenance and chemo or other infusion treatments. Besides making and serving snacks, volunteer duties include cleaning the chairs and making runs to the hospital for pick-ups from the blood center.

“Volunteers are constantly on their feet,” according to Ronda Taylor, a patient access representative at the center. “They go to the hospital for pick-ups, rain or shine, snow or heat.”

When asked how many steps volunteers typically get during a shift, one volunteer said it tallies up to about five miles, Rochelle said.

In addition to the day-to-day duties at the center, two volunteers have worked for the past five years with their church group to make colorful quilts. PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center Foundation covers the cost of the supplies, but the volunteers donate all of their skill and time. Rochelle said each new cancer patient receives one of these quilts to keep them warm during infusion sessions, to brighten their day and commemorate their journey.

Another volunteer makes and brings in once a month a supply of various “beautiful handcrafted greeting cards,” Rochelle said. Nurses and others will sign one of these cards to share with a patient who is going through a hard time. “Patients will sometimes bring in cookies for the staff and we’ll also use one of the cards to send a thank you.”

Infusion center volunteers have been regularly, generously donating their time—some for three years and others for as many as 20 years. Jean Watson, a 15-year breast cancer survivor, volunteers two mornings a week. “After I retired in 2011 I really wanted to give back and the Infusion Center seemed like a wonderful place to volunteer,” she said. “I know how much the staff relies on the volunteers and how much our patients appreciate having us there.”

How do you thank people like Jean who are so willing to step in and help others who are having a rough go? Rochelle, Ronda and other staff were eager to do something special.

The office decided to raise funds with a bake sale for a recognition lunch.

A vast array of goodies—from cookies and muffins to cupcakes and even peanut brittle—poured in for the sale in the building lobby.

“We’ve done bake sales in the past, but this one was special,” said Ronda. “Once patients found out what we were doing, we got donations of wonderful baked goods from patients themselves. We were totally overwhelmed by the generosity.” Clearly, it wasn’t just the staff members who were eager to show appreciation for all that the volunteers do.

Thanks to support from building management and fellow tenants, the center raised more than enough to treat their volunteers to a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant…more than PB&J but just as uplifting.