A summer of hope

Everyone has heard of leukemia, a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone, and its terrifying power. I had only heard of leukemia patients’ stories and had never encountered them in person until I volunteered at a hospital to take care of children diagnosed with leukemia. The experience taught me that, no matter how dark the world is, there is always a glimpse of light.

This summer, I volunteered at the Nanfang Hospital in Guangzhou, my hometown. On the first day, I wiped the tables and toys with sanitizers because the children need to be in a clean environment due to their weakened immune systems caused by leukemia. At 9 AM, the children ran into the room and smiled at Grace, the leader of the volunteer program. The children, from 5 to 17 years old, all had masks on, so I could identify them only by their eyes and hair if they had any. I was shocked by the joy that filled the room. 

The next day, there was another volunteer, a college student who had been volunteering for a month and so was familiar with the procedures, which allowed me to explore the patient rooms with Grace. Four beds are squeezed into one room because they have too many patients. Some kids were receiving a bone marrow transplant, where the nurses draw blood out of the patient’s bone marrow to replace the unhealthy cells, and the children’s screams were heard in the hallways. However, some kids are so used to these treatments and the pain that they don’t react. Also, one particular infant was connected to a machine on his bed. I was curious, but I was scared of what I would see, so I did not dare to look closely at him. At that moment, I realized how fortunate I was to be healthy and alive.

Over the next two weeks, I learned my daily duties at the hospital. I grew very close to particular families and children. One child loved origami. I learned how to fold stars and boxes when I was a child, so I made them for him, and he loved them. During my two-day break from the volunteer work, I folded around 660 stars for him in paper boxes. I also bought ten sets of toys because Grace had told me that she wished she could get some new toys for the hospital, which I knew would make the children happy.

On the last day of my volunteer work, Grace and I went out for lunch, and she told me more about the issues the children encounter. The younger kids from 5 to 11 years old are not in the most pain because they do not understand their situation yet. After their treatment, they play with the toys, and they are happy again. However, those from 12 to 17 years old suffer the most because they understand the illness, and leukemia is a time bomb stuck in their bodies. The children who suffer the most are those who have healed from leukemia, but then it returns. Even though they have been through the treatments, they are even more afraid of the pain because they understand their chances of survival are even lower. They often ask Grace where they will go and what will happen when they die. I was shocked to see these children smile, even when they know their situation. They are only kids, and most of them are younger than I am, but they have gone through more than I hope I ever will.

Grace also described the situation of the families in the hospital. Most of them come from the countryside. Most of their parents quit their jobs so that they could be with the children, but that also means their income stops. Therefore, they risk everything they have to save their children. Also, due to the high demand for hospital beds, the children have to leave the hospital after their treatment. The families have to rent an apartment near the hospital and wait until the children’s immune system get strong enough to continue receiving treatment. Some children win the battle with leukemia, but some lose, leaving the parents with agonizing pain and nothing else. Consequently, because the children understand the expenses and the sacrifices of their parents, they try to bear their pain and fear. Even though the circumstances are tough, when I saw the parents in the patient room, they laughed and lived the best they could. They are obviously aware of their children’s situation, but they still believe their children will get better. In the hospital, where hope is difficult to find, they are the ones who create it.

When I began volunteering, I had no idea this was going to be a life-changing experience. I walked into the hospital clueless, but when Grace gave me the mask and orange volunteer vest, it was the official start of my journey of becoming a member of this community. I still remember riding the cramped elevator up to the 9th floor every morning, looking forward to seeing the children. Although everyone expected me to be depressed by leukemia’s impact on the children, I never regretted any part of volunteering and bringing happiness and hope to the children and families.

Comments are closed.