Breast cancer survivor, volunteer: How I support other patients

During one of breast cancer survivor Margaret Looper’s early
visits to MD Anderson some 15 years ago, a
volunteer who escorted her to her appointments
left a remarkable impression.

“She was just so cheerful. She was young, she had her volunteer
jacket on and she had this long bouncing hair. I thought to myself,
‘How could this person be cheerful? Well, she’s never had cancer.
That’s why she could be so cheerful,’” Margaret recalls. “Then she
said something about her cancer, and I said, ‘Wait, you had cancer!?’
And she said, ‘Yeah, I’m a survivor.” And I thought, wow! And she got well!”

After that interaction, Margaret told her daughter, “When I get over
this cancer, I’m going to try doing that.”

Shifting from breast cancer survivor to volunteer

Two years later, when Margaret was cancer-free, her daughter came
across a newspaper article announcing the opening of MD Anderson in The
. Margaret, who lives in Montgomery County, thought it
was the perfect volunteer opportunity. She contacted MD Anderson, and in the fall of 2004, she
became the first volunteer to serve at The Woodlands location.

“I was the only volunteer for many years, and I was constantly
changing what I did because we started off very small,” she says.
“Whatever they asked me to do, I would do. I also just sort of looked
for things to do.”

Like all MD Anderson volunteers,
Margaret was trained on how to help patients who appear lost, cold,
lonely or upset. And because of her experience as a patient, she makes
a point of mentioning that she’s a survivor to patients who may need encouragement.

“They’re always kind of shocked. I’m 75, but I have a lot of energy.
I buzz around all the time,” Margaret says. “I tell them that the best
way to feel good about yourself is to think about others. When you do
things for others, it makes you feel good. And you’re not thinking
about yourself because that’s not what’s important. What’s important
is that you’ve got the energy to do something for somebody else.”

Going above and beyond to support patients

Margaret’s support for patients doesn’t end there. She’s happy to
hold patients’ hands or distract them with conversation during chemotherapy. She’s even found a way to support
survivors after their treatment ends.

“The very first time I saw the bell ringing ceremony, I thought,
‘These patients need something to remember this accomplishment.’” She
thought about what a man and a woman could use, and came up with a
keychain with a little bell on the end.

In addition to volunteering each week, Margaret spends some of her
spare time each month making three versions of the keychain: one for
men, one for women and a pink and white one for breast cancer
patients. In the past 13 years, she’s created thousands. 

“They’re always very surprised and appreciative,” Margaret says of
patients’ reactions. “I just love my job. I get to give people things
and visit with all these wonderful people.”

Gratitude for MD Anderson

Margaret is thankful that MD Anderson is
here for the patients she meets, just as it’s been for her and more
recently, her daughter, who flies in from Kansas every month to
undergo breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson in The Woodlands.

“We are absolutely happy that she’s come to MD
,” Margaret says. “Our family has the attitude: If you
have cancer, no matter where you live, you need to go to MD Anderson.”

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
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