Cambrian: Opinion

Pink is the color of kindness for cancer volunteers

My face flushed as rosy as the nearby beribboned pink basket filled with girly sundries and gift certificates printed on pink paper for massages and hair styling. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from it even when the mammography technician reviewing my medical status asked poignant questions about my health.

The tech handed me a slip.

“Every breast cancer survivor in for a mammogram this month is automatically entered to win this basket.”

I filled out the slip, and dropped it into the box next to the magnificent pink basket.

It wasn’t the beauty of the basket that drew my obsessive attention — it was the memory.

A volunteer hostess greeted me at the cancer treatment center. It was a cold winter afternoon, the day after a biopsy confirmed a malignant tumor in my left breast. The volunteer guided me down the long hall where I learned how the next six months of my life would radically change. At the end of my first appointment, the volunteer returned to the exam room with a pink basket filled with girly sundries, gift certificates and a personalized card.

Was this my consolation prize for being the newest breast cancer statistic? No. It was a thoughtful gift generated by women who voluntarily gathered the gift certificates and merchandise from local businesses, beautifully packaged them and attached a note that read, “We are breast cancer survivors. Please accept these gifts and our support. We are here for you.”

That kind act by volunteers from 11 years ago, remains a sparkling moment — as sparkling as the beribboned pink basket that held my gaze last week.

I have both volunteered and been blessed by volunteers in matters of health care. It is one form of giving that makes an immediate difference.

For instance, when a parent’s nightmare became reality for a good friend — her young son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor — she shared stories about hospital volunteers on her Facebook page. Her son took a long journey to recovery that included a rehabilitation hospital.

She writes, “Volunteers brought in certified therapy dogs to visit the kids and give special cuddles. The dogs really brightened my son’s spirits. There were also volunteers who sponsored lunches and dinners for families while their children were inpatients. We really appreciated getting food other than hospital food or fast food. Plus, clowns came to the hospital once a week to visit the kids. Humor is a great way to forget your worries.”

Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of Dignity Health, discussed the impact of kindness upon health care in the May 2015 Forbes magazine. Excerpted from that interview, Dean said, “…the most innovative thing that I’ve seen in health care yet is a simple and proven idea — that kindness has the power to heal … and now science is confirming it. … The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at the Stanford University School of Medicine … showed that when patients are treated with kindness … it can lead to significant positive health outcomes such as reduced pain, reduced anxiety, reduced blood pressure, faster wound healing, shorter hospital stays and even a reduction in the duration of the common cold.”


Throughout SLO County, there are ample opportunities for health care volunteering, including the San Luis Obispo County Medical Reserve Corps for retired health care professionals; Volunteer SLO, a United Way agency; and RSVP of the Central Coast, that matches senior citizens to volunteer needs. Most any hospital offers numerous volunteer opportunities, as well.

In Cambria, Cambria Anonymous Neighbors (CAN) volunteer to drive San Simeon and Cambria residents to medical appointments, and loan hospital equipment. About 150 citizens volunteer with CAN, according to Mike McLaughlin, CAN vice president.

But he emphasized, “We can really use more drivers to take persons to their medical appointments.”

CAN averages about 70 transportation calls per month. These calls range from eye, medical and dental appointments, to colonoscopy, dialysis and chemotherapy sessions.

Call 927-5673 for more information about CAN’s services.

We don’t have to give our life to volunteerism. One day can make a difference. This Saturday, Oct. 24, is National Make a Difference Day. Learn more at www.makea

I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize the numerous volunteers of Pacific Wildlife Care (PWC) who rescue and treat injured and ill wildlife throughout SLO County. Like all volunteer groups, funding is an ongoing challenge. On Sunday, Nov. 1, PWC will host the fifth annual Soupabration! — A Carnival of Soup, Wine and Chocolate — a fundraising event in Morro Bay. Tickets are available at

Charmaine Coimbra’s column appears monthly and is special to The Cambrian.