Finding Hope at MSKCC

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Today is World Cancer Day, and while the disease can be cruel and painful, and it is always unfair, there are reasons to be hopeful as well.

When Kaplow’s Wellness Squad encouraged us to find a volunteer organization, I decided that I wanted a challenge. I wanted to leave the experience a stronger, more enlightened person, with the ability to comfort those around me without fear.

And so I began my journey at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Each Wednesday night I travel to the Upper East Side hospital and take the elevator up to the 14th floor, the Recreation Room. It’s oddly calming. The stresses of work and daily life float away as I become consumed with watercolor paintings, ribbons, sewing projects and carnations. There are more important things to think about – I am there to make someone smile, to help take their mind off of things.

Some nights are quiet. Some nights I walk the floors to bring flowers to new patients, but no one is in their rooms, or they are not in the mood for chit chat (understandably so). But my favorite moments are the small victories.

  • The woman that I thought was asleep in her room, but soon realized was awake and talked to me cheerfully and openly about her treatment.
  • The girl that wasn’t on my list, but a nurse suggested I visit. After smiles and a brief conversation, I left her with a flower and the Recreation Room number in case she wanted us to bring her a book or a project. She called us five minutes later to request a craft. (Felt just as good as an editor replying positively to a pitch email!)
  • The time I walked into a room with a large family and addressed the young woman in bed, later realizing that the patient was her mom sitting next to her. We all had a little (albeit, embarrassing) laugh.
  • Sharing haikus I wrote with the Recreation Room that are now being used as Chinese New Year fortunes for patients.

Each time I’m there, I marvel at the positivity of the nurses, doctors and other employees. I wonder how they are able to put up such a happy front all the time. But, you know what? I rarely run into the same patients week after week, meaning hospital stays are getting shorter, and many get to go home in-between treatments, and hopefully, eventually, for good. Now that surely is a reason to smile and have joy.

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