Princess Margaret Hospital has an extensive volunteer system. You see the folks in red vests bounding around the different clinics, offering juice, cookies, and, when you’re lucky, lollipops.
Yesterday I ran into Tara, one of the volunteers extraordinaire at the chemo unit after not having seen her all summer. It was as if I was greeting a long lost friend, we were so happy to reconnect and find out how the other was doing . Tara’s excitement about this project was of great encouragement.
Hospital volunteers are another piece when it comes to putting together the entire picture of the effects of cancer. What is it like to come and try to offer cheer to people who are very sick or dying? What is it like to be rebuffed? What is it like to watch someone over the days and week either regain their health or to deteriorate.
Volunteers are caregivers, but at a certain distance from the patient. Not family, not a paid worker, but somewhere in between. I hope that we can engage volunteers in this project to write or create something to add to our perspective.
Do you know any volunteers extraordinaire? Are you a volunteer or do you have a story about a volunteer?
Found this great posting by Jane Underwood, a woman with breast cancer who runs a school for creative writing in San Francisco. I thought this post was too good to miss. In the post, she describes a morning with her other self, a woman named Lenore. Very funny. It’s called “Lenore I and wrestle with the lump”.
Today I lucked out and found the most marvellous blog. The blog is called The Creative Practice http://thecreativepractice.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/why-creative-expression/
The woman who runs it, Kira Campo, seems to be focused on creativity as something to be cultivated in everyone in order to foster innovation and innovative solutions to problems.
Her blog is exciting for me on many levels. As someone who is engaged in the creative process, I appreciate the idea that this time spent creating is not only about my outcomes, but about how I develop as a person through the process of creation. By engaging in the creative process, according to Campo, I am developing skills that help me to respond to change, problem solve and innovate.
Her work makes me excited about the fact that we are taking a creative approach to this book. It has me feeling that the potential ripple effects of this project are, perhaps, bigger than I had originally anticipated.
I don’t want to repackage her words. Just go check out the blog!
I revisited the crabby cancer wife blog (see the link on the side) and discovered some new writing that was worth looking at. Especially touching was a short piece about one difficult aspect of caregiving. Take a look at http://crabbycancerwife.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/a-lesson-what-no-one-tells-you-about-caregiving/
Check out this great blog entry on the use of pink as an emblem in breast cancer education and fundraising. I thought it addressed a contentious issue with thoughtfulness and graciousness. The woman who wrote it, Katie Ford Hall, hosts a blog called Uneasy in Pink.
ps – This just in. There is a new book of Canadian poetry about cancer that has just been released. You can read more about it at http://www.leafpress.ca/Fiona-Tinwei-Lam/The-Bright-Well.htm
The book project continues to move ahead. The team has been meeting regularly and we hope to soon unveil the submission guidelines and an information page. Start sharpening those pencils, tuning up the computer and cleaning your paint brushes. Once we have this information online, please pass it on as widely as you can to your networks. The more people we reach, the greater diversity of submissions to create a better book.
At this time we will also launch the official project title. Are you excited yet?
I found an online journal that invites creative writing submissions by anyone who has anything to do with healthcare – doctors, nurses, patients, caregivers, etc. I found some great reads in the archives and subscribed to receive upcoming issues by email. For example, there was a great story about a retired nurse and her remembrances of learning hospital corners in making beds. Another is by a medical student grappling to understand her role in the hospital. Consider taking a look. More inspiration.
I feel a certain kinship with other patients at the chemo unit. My automatic response is to look directly at other patients and smile, but some are more open than others. There is an art to trying to read whether people feel the need to be very much alone or whether they are just shy. I feel there is a certain propriety to be observed to ensure I don’t cross the line into someone’s private moment.
Last week I was near another young woman in a secluded corner of the unit. She was there with her parents and was teaching her dad how to use his smart phone. I kept stealing glances over at her, but her eyes never roamed near mine. I tried to create a look on my face that might indicate my readiness to connect in case she looked my way while I wasn’t looking. Again and again I looked over, trying to find that right moment. I felt like I was picking someone up at a bar and trying to decide how much to flirt. As much as I wanted to be open, I didn’t want to make her feel like I was stalking her with my eyes.
Finally, she looked my way and I noticed the movement from the corner of my eye. It was time to make my move. I looked up and our eyes met. Bingo. Smiles all around and suddenly a friendly feeling infused our corner of the chemo unit.
That was it, no conversation, no sharing of stories. Just the smile. We smiled again when I left and I felt like had accomplished something with my time. Next time I see her, we’ll be like old friends. Maybe we’ll even talk.
Check out this fun art therapy website. There is lots of writing about the benefits of art therapy for cancer patients, but the really fun part is the art gallery. If you get to the gallery page, you will see a link to make your own art using a cool computer program. You can contribute your art to the gallery or even get it printed up on a shirt. Almost as good as fingerpainting without the mess.