I have been volunteering at the infusion center almost three years now. I lost count of how many patients I’ve seen come and go through those doors; some died, some got better and there are many whom I have no idea what happened to them. Most patients promise to stay in touch but don’t. I’m guessing many of them want to get back to their lives and forget they ever had cancer. I don’t blame them, but I’m different. Cancer changed my life forever. There is no going back. My illness caused me to have a complete paradigm shift. It gave me a whole new sense of purpose. I volunteer and share my story to whomever will listen, in order to pay-it-forward. I live so others may also. Mine is a story they need to hear. The best place for me to do that (besides the pages of this blog) is in the infusion center.
Studying Buddhism and following its teachings the best I can, helps keep me going back into the battlefield (infusion) knowing that the patients I visit with today may not return ever again. A patient I sat with for over a year came looking for me a couple weeks ago. It was on a Wednesday but I couldn’t talk with him because I was in the middle of doing something else. I thought he was there for an appointment and I would find him later, but I never did. No one knew where he went. I found out the following Monday that he went home and died Saturday.
One of the main teachings of Buddhism is impermanence. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing. I read a quote somewhere recently that we are all just guests on this beautiful planet. That is so true. Another Buddhist teaching is about detachment. Becoming attached to something and losing it causes suffering. In order to protect myself from suffering, I taught myself to become friends with my patients without getting attached to them, knowing that even if they survive their cancer, there will come a time when I won’t see them again.
Someone else told me years ago that we come into each others lives as; a reason, a season and a lifetime. I see myself as “a reason.” My purpose is to help patients get through their infusion session and be a positive force. We talk about all kinds of things and sometimes when they are having a tough time, I ask them questions to get them reminiscing about happier days. My hope is to get their minds off cancer if only for a few minutes.
I didn’t get any real training when I started my volunteer job. Most of what I learned was through my own experience as a patient and talking with other volunteers. Working in an environment where there are many sick people can be tough on anyone. I don’t know how doctors and nurses do it, especially working in emergency rooms. Many nurses I work with are religious. Their faith helps them do their job. My Buddhist practice is what works for me.