R. Dana Towle, Jr. has been volunteering within his community since he was a young man in his twenties, believing strongly in giving back. His current service work, however, is based upon a deeply personal mission to help others who are fighting cancer, as Dana once did himself.
Diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1999, Dana received treatment in the outpatient oncology clinic at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, Massachusetts. The North Attleboro resident says he was so touched by the compassionate care he received from staff at the clinic, he decided to give back to others once he regained his health. Volunteering since 2001, the now 78-year-old has dedicated 4,600 hours of service to others battling cancer. Empathizing with their journey, Dana is providing critical emotional support to patients as they fight for their lives.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I am now retired from the fire protection industry, but I’ve been a volunteer my whole life. I like to help people in need, because I feel that we all have something to give back to society.
How is this volunteerism different, now that it’s so personal?
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a very scary situation for most people. Even with all our medical advances, cancer can sometimes be a death sentence. The patients who come into the clinic want to know about their disease, and they want to know about treatment. I am there as someone who has had and survived cancer. I’ve been through the treatments. If they want to talk, I can share my experiences, both good and bad, and provide emotional support to patients as they are fighting cancer.
Describe your role with Sturdy Memorial Hospital.
I volunteer at the clinic so that the nurses and staff have more time to help the patients. We see anywhere from 35 to 40 patients each day. I start my shift at 6 a.m. to prepare the registration paperwork for patients. I prepare the IV stations, making sure each chair is clean and has a pillow, and that there available supplies and equipment. When clinic begins at 8 a.m., we begin receiving patients. Throughout the day, I’ll act as a runner to retrieve medications from the pharmacy, and also transport patients to x-ray, ultrasound, or the lab. I’m tired out by the end of the day!
In addition, I serve on the Patient and Family Advisory Committee for the hospital. We’re made up of hospital staff, volunteers and community members, and work to improve the quality of the hospital experience.
You are described as an advocate for volunteerism. Explain.
Service means a lot to me. When I first started volunteering in the clinic, I was the sole volunteer. Cancer and chemotherapy treatments can be a tough thing, and a lot of people don’t want to volunteer in that particular unit. Eventually we had some other people that were former patients join our volunteer ranks. I encourage and train other survivors to volunteer in the department, making a difference for those who are fighting cancer. Now we have volunteers virtually every day of the week.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
One gentleman came in to the clinic for treatments, and he was scared of what was going to happen to him. When I wasn’t running to the pharmacy or doing other things, I’d sit and just talk with him. We’d reminisce about his service in the Army, we’d talk about his family and sports. We talked about anything, just to keep his mind fresh and off of his treatment and what he was going through. He unfortunately passed away several years later, but his family thanked me for the time that I spent with him.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
Giving the staff the help that they need. Also, being able to see patients throughout their treatment journey. Initially, these patients can be apprehensive about their treatments, but it’s so rewarding to see them get through the process with minimal difficulty, and come back into the clinic after 6 months saying they’re in remission, or cancer-free.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
There are a lot of people in this world that need help. Don’t look the other way when someone is looking for assistance. Do what you can. A lot of people can give a little, a lot of people (retirees like me) can give a lot of their time.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Volunteer. Do not be afraid to give back. Whether it’s for your local hospital, animal shelter, or the Red Cross. There are lots of organizations in your community that need help. We receive a lot from our communities, and there are a lot of services that are provided. People can volunteer, make an impact and help their fellow man.
How can readers help?
Please visit the Sturdy Memorial Hospital volunteer website for more information about how you can give back.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like R. Dana Towle Jr.? Visit All For Good for local volunteer opportunities.