From caregiver to MD Anderson volunteer

Even while she was undergoing chemotherapy to treat stage IV breast cancer, Pat McWaters was passionate about
helping other patients. So, in 2005, she and her husband, Roger,
signed up to volunteer with MD Anderson’s
one-on-one support program – now called myCancerConnection – and in MD Anderson’s Hospitality Centers.

Although Pat’s breast cancer had metastasized to her liver, the
couple still made volunteering a priority. “Luckily, it was
slow-growing, and treatments were quite effective for a while,” Roger
recalls. But by 2012, Pat had become very ill. She died that spring.
“She did everything she could and fought hard,” Roger says.

“I stopped volunteering for a few months,” Roger says. But he
decided to don his blue volunteer jacket again and returned to
volunteer at the Hospitality Center. “You get a real sense of personal
ministry,” he says. “I feel like I can be supportive, and people
appreciate it. It helps me, too.”

Connecting with patients and caregivers

All myCancerConnection Hospitality Center volunteers are either
survivors or caregivers. They empathize with patients and loved ones
who stop by the Hospitality Centers, which are located in the Main
Building and Mays Clinic.

“It’s a good place for patients and caregivers to come between
appointments,” Roger says. “There are a lot of good conversations, and
it’s a place for people to connect.”

Some patients want to talk about doctor’s reports, and sometimes
people just want a hug, he says.

“People tell us how they are and if they’re up for the next
treatment,” Roger says. “We get to visit with people about their
cancer journeys. I make it a point to be as friendly as I can.”

That friendliness is something Roger came to know well when he first
came with Pat to MD Anderson in 2003. “We
got to know a lot of people in the hospital,” he says. “Dr. Abenaa Brewster in the Breast Center was so supportive and so good as a
doctor. We loved her. We got to know her and her nurses well.”

The power of support

Although Roger still grieves over the loss of his wife, the support
of his children, grandchildren and church members have helped him
through. “There are some emotional moments, but it’s healthy. I have
prayed a lot and cried a lot,” he says. “I think it’s good to keep
fairly active and keep up with usual activities. As I tell other
caregivers, ‘Don’t be afraid to reach out for support.’”

In honor of Roger’s and Pat’s service (in memoriam), Roger will
accept the 2016 Joseph T. Painter Award in November. The award is
given annually at the myCancerConnection Cancer Survivorship
Conference
to a volunteer who epitomizes the spirit of myCancerConnection.

“I feel very humbled and undeserving,” Roger says of receiving the
award. Ultimately, he shifts the focus to other patients and
caregivers. “Some of the best occasions are when we can celebrate with
people who have rung the bell to finish treatment,” he says. “And I
like it when people know they always have somebody there for them.”