For a little under two years, I volunteered at a cancer resource center. It offered a variety of services, including a boutique where women dealing with breast cancer could get wigs and breast prosthetics at no charge.
I volunteered one day a week, for a three hour shift. When I started there, I was pretty nervous...I hadn't been around people in a long time. It worked out, though...the staff were nice...and I liked the atmosphere of the place...it was this big old house, all hard wood and low lighting...it was pleasant.
I was an ok volunteer, but nothing special. I worked my shift, but never went above and beyond.
An average shift: I'd get off work around 8a.m. and hang out at a cafe for a bit (there wasn't enough time between work ending and the volunteer shift beginning to go home, so I would just go to some coffee shop, waste time). At 9a.m., I'd go to the center. There was a desk in the lobby facing the front door...I'd sit there. That's mostly what I did for awhile...just sit behind the front desk...I'd stare at the walls, spin around in the chair. I'd read books. The center had all sorts of books and pamphlets about the various types of cancer, so I'd read those sometimes. Breast cancer, brain cancer, throat cancer. One pamphlet was written for people with a terminally ill family member. It educated people about what to expect right at the end. For some reason, that one really got to me. It described that people, when they're about to die, can become very withdrawn...they began to feel disconnected from the world around them. It related the fact that most people want to surround a dying relative with family members...but that this may not always be what the person wants. It said, basically, "Don't feel bad if they express disinterest in friends and family; this is normal...this is part of the dying process." Sometimes, if nothing was happening, I would sit on the front porch and watch squirrels. The front yard had 3 huge oaks...they were squirrel-filled, entertaining.
I'd spend some time in the kitchen...cleaning counters, washing dishes, sweeping. I'd walk around the house...empty trash baskets. The house had a few bedrooms...a few functioned as offices, but three of them were actual bedrooms...people could stay there for free if they were from out of town and wanted to stay close to a relative in the hospital. Anyway, I'd clean those out when clients left. I'd go down to the basement...snap on latex gloves, wash a few loads of laundry. Then I'd go back to the front desk...read, wait.
Usually, once or twice a shift, a woman would come in for a wig. Most women came in right before starting chemo...they wanted to have a wig ready at the first sign of hair loss. So I'd take them into the boutique...floor to ceiling shelves, dozens of wigs. I always asked if they wanted a wig that matched their natural hair color...most women said yes. A few would say, "I'd like to be a blond for once." I'd say, "Okay."
Until the hair has completely fallen out due to the chemo, you have to wear this skin cap beneath the wig...it presses the existing hair down, lets the wig fit more comfortably. So a client would pick out a few wigs...then sit in front of a mirror...I'd help them get the skin cap tightly in place...then they would try on a wig. I'd shift it around around, help adjust it. I did this in cases where the client wanted help. Sometimes clients just wanted privacy, so I'd sound them out on their preference, clear out if they wanted to be alone. It seemed to be a 50/50 deal...about half of the women would request privacy.
Many clients came in with female family members or friends. These clients only came in with female family members or friends. During my two years at the center, I never once saw a client go into the boutique with a guy. I asked the staff about it. Samantha, the in-house manager said, "Guys won't go near the wigs. Guys are idiots." Sometimes a woman would come in for a wig...nervous, uncomfortable...and she'd get help from me or the staff, total strangers...and you could see her husband out in the parking lot...sitting in the car, listening to the radio; they couldn't even come inside.
Anyway, once or twice a shift, someone would show up to see the wigs. The whole thing usually took about 20 to 30 minutes. Then I'd go back to the front desk...read a little more, answer phones. Sometimes people would call to ask if they were qualified for one of the financial assistance services. I'd take out the relevant sheet of paper...I'd read out the list of qualifications. If they were eligible, I'd transfer them to one of the staff...they'd work them into the system. If they weren't, I'd just describe other services that might be available. I would read these off of a different sheet of paper. The staff provided us with all of these sheets of paper you could refer to during a phone call. I never had to memorize anything...I'd just answer the phone, listen, pull up the info, read it out. If it got complicated, I'd just pass them off to the staff. They never cared, they were pretty laid back.
People called constantly, so the phone-answering had to happen a lot. People wanted the address...people wanted to donate money...people wanted to receive money...people wanted to sign up for cancer screenings...sometimes people would just feel overwhelmed about their cancer diagnosis; they'd call for no particular reason, just to talk; they'd have a million questions..."Should I eat differently?" "What do I tell my kids" "Should I continue to work?" I'd say, "One moment," transfer them to staff. The staff were great, could actually answer all of these questions.
One time at the center, we offered this free screening kit for colorectal cancer. The kit included this small, absorbent wand...all you had to do was take the kit home, dip the wand in some poo...place the wand in a specially-designed envelope..and mail it to your doctor. If you used this kit, there was no charge for the testing. People misunderstood, though...since they picked their kit up at the center, some of them thought you had to mail it back to the center. So, for awhile, we kept getting shit in the mail. You'd see this distinctive looking envelope in the mail box and you'd know you got another one. I'd call up to Catherine, the supervisor, and say, "Some more shit came in." She'd say, "Just make sure it stays out of my inbox." Not that it was really much of an issue...the envelopes were designed to safely transport this kind of material. Still, no one was thrilled when one of these envolopes returned. We'd have to look at the sender's name...call the person..ask for their doctor's mailing address...and send it off for them. Took about a month to filter through all of the shit-mail.
Anyway, that's it. Sitting at the front desk...answering phones...cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry...working in the wig room. Three hours would go by...another volunteer would show up, take my place. I'd go home, read a little, go to sleep.