Monday, May 12, 2008

Volunteering Milestone

As some of you know, I volunteer each week with cancer patients at Georgetown University Hospital's Lombardi Cancer Center. I volunteer in the infusion center, which is where patients go on an outpatient basis to do their chemotherapy. I volunteer in honor of my mother, who died of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) in 1994. Mainly I'm just there to hang out with the patients - chemo can be many things: nauseating, tiring, and... boring. Some patients have to sit there for hours. So I chat with the people who want to chat, bring patients drinks and snacks, discuss what's on TV or what's going on with the news, hand out bagged lunches... and when the nurses need help, I help with paperwork, patient education handout and materials, and other good stuff.

I always say that I think I get more out of my volunteering than the patients do. It's my therapy. For 3 hours a week, it is completely, totally, and utterly not about me. It's not about my problems, my stresses, my concerns... it's all about other people.

One of the best things about volunteering at the same time each week is that I get to know the same patients. It's funny, because for some of them, we have pretty intimate conversations, but I don't even know their names. Or I'll really get to know a patient, and then their treatment is over and I don't see them again. I try really hard not to miss my weekly volunteer slot, and I've come to schedule my life around it.

I've shared some great laughs and some touching moments with the patients, and I've loved getting to know the nurses and administrative staff.

Last week, after my weekly volunteering, I went to Georgetown's annual Volunteer Recognition Event - a reception with food, an opportunity to mingle with other volunteers, and someone from the hospital talking about the volunteers' work. Then, they give out certificates that recognize us for the hours we've served. I got my 200 hour Certificate of Appreciation.

I feel like I've really accomplished something with those 200 hours. I'm proud of it. There were other volunteers there who have given thousands of hours, and maybe I'll get there someday, too. But 200 hours feels good. (I've actually given more than that, but they give out the certificates in 100 hour increments!)

I want to share my story to hopefully inspire someone out there to volunteer, and also to emphasize how great it is to volunteer on an ongoing basis with the same population, week to week. You really build relationships that way. I'm starting to feel that with the youth group that I've been volunteering with for about a year - I'm starting to really develop relationships with the girls.

I feel really, really grateful for what my Georgetown volunteering has given me. I've gotten so much more than I've given.

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