Gillian Grant

Volunteer in chemo day careAs my cart rattles down the hallway that doubles as a waiting room for transfusion patients on my way to Chemo Daycare, I am acutely aware of all the secrets hidden behind my fresh and friendly volunteer smile.

The cart I am pushing carries three large blue plastic containers of juice, a basket of cookies and a big Tupperware container full of crossword puzzles, pens, crafts and magazines. This, I am told, is called the “distractions” box. These things are supposed to help people in the waiting room outside Chemo Daycare take their minds off their sadness, their anger, their fear of cancer. I know that these so called “distractions” are useless. I know that in that waiting room all you want is the day to be over and no matter how fierce your determination, chemo will get the best of you by the end of the day.

I was in this waiting room every three weeks for six months exactly three years ago. I know the anxiety of impossible wait times. I know the smell. I remember being desperate for a friendly face. The best my husband could do was to hold my hand. I am not blaming him. He was a wreck too. I had a less than a 30% chance of surviving and three young kids at home. We had no one to talk to until my treatment began and then wow…those nurses were like angels.

Gillian GrantI know the nurses. I know that the blankets hot out of the oven keep you warm for two minutes and then the thin flannel becomes an ineffective defense against the cold that has made a home beneath your skin. I know what it feels like to ring the bell after your last treatment – how in that instant the relief leaves you exhausted and your tears are now tears of hope.

But no one is supposed to know that I know.

On Thursday mornings I am a volunteer with the new “Chemo Buddies” program and my job is to bring comfort to those who are waiting for treatment. It is my job to listen. It is my job to smile. It is my job to show compassion. I hand out blankets that are etched with the words “Healing Beyond the Body, Princess Margaret Hospital”. And I know that that is exactly what I AM doing. A hand on a shoulder, a warm smile, a joke even, a glass of water delivered with TLC, a bedside chat, a box of Kleenex discretely placed beside a weeping partner. These are the connections we make as Chemo Buddies and there is power in this kindness. I know. Healing doesn’t always mean being cured of cancer. Healing sometimes means simply: peace.

The people in the Chemo Daycare waiting room reflect all that is cancer. I have seen people get hysterical and almost faint, I have seen people curl into the fetal position and try to disappear into the chair, I have seen people rage and cry and rage and cry, I have seen people refuse to make eye contact. I have seen people come in and sit in the corner for hours, alone. But there is also a lot of love and joy in that waiting room. One couple who must be well into their seventies and who can’t be more than 4 foot 11 always sit tight together and hold hands. There is another old woman with no teeth who can’t speak a word of English but who smiles one of the biggest grins I have ever seen whenever I bring her cranberry juice. There is the man from Newfoundland with nine children who take turns visiting. There is the Korean minister surrounded by his congregation.

The ones I empathize with the most are the young moms. Their courage is beyond words. Their husbands bravely waiting on them. Waiting for them….to get well….

There is only one gift I can bring these people in the Chemo Daycare waiting room: kindness. But this perhaps is the only gift anyone can give at this time. They have the best oncology doctors and nurses in Canada at PMH. Their treatment has begun. Now there is only hope.

When a hospital becomes a place for trust, when a hospital becomes a place for real human connection, when a hospital becomes a place where someone will actually take the time to listen, than a hospital can truly become a place for healing beyond the body. Chemo Buddies is making this happen.

I owe my life to Princess Margaret Hospital. Chemo Buddies is my chance to give back and it is an honour to volunteer.


Revised: October 2013