A personal episode has made one volunteer's work more meaningful.
The time and date are indelibly etched in LaVonne Nauman's mind.
It was 8:45 p.m. Friday, June 6, 1997. Her husband of 48 years, C.O., had just undergone exploratory surgery at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. LaVonne remembers waiting anxiously in the waiting room as the doctors approached her.
Looking somewhat solemn, the doctors told LaVonne that her husband had an extremely rare and serious tumor in the middle of his head between the optic nerves (sinus area).
"I just remember thinking, `Are they telling us that we're dealing with a terminal illness?' It was just very sobering and so out of the blue, so unexpected. It came on so quickly. It was an extremely big shock."
A few days later, test results from the Mayo Clinic confirmed that C.O. had a cancerous tumor. The couple eventually moved to Loma Linda, Calif., for three and a half months. The city had one of only two hospitals in the country that offered proton radiation treatment. C.O. underwent major surgery to remove the tumor and 40 treatments of proton radiation.
C.O. has made excellent progress and is in great spirits living back in Lawrence. LaVonne is comforted knowing that about 95 percent of the type of tumors her husband had have been treated successfully and never recur. However, she remains cautious.
"You never know what can happen down the line," LaVonne said. "There are no guarantees."
Dealing with her husband's cancer has made LaVonne more appreciative of the life and "how dear your family is to you." She has also developed even greater compassion and respect for the many cancer patients she has worked with volunteering for the Douglas County Chapter of the American Cancer Society. As a volunteer for about 12 years, LaVonne has seen many courageous clients and their families cope with this devastating illness.
"When you have one of your closest family members dealing with it, and you're sitting in the hospital with them day after day for three weeks, and then living with them in a different town, you certainly realize what other people and their families go through," LaVonne said. "It becomes an all consuming thing. It's just kind of your job now to deal with this life-threatening event in our lives, and you do everything you possibly can."
LaVonne began volunteering with the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program in 1983, spending six years driving needy clients to hospitals and doctors' appointments in Kansas City and Topeka.
She currently volunteers as the patient issues chair, a position she began in 1992. She acts as an "information disseminator," connecting new clients to the American Cancer Society's many services, including Road to Recovery, support groups, nutritional supplement program, loan and "Reach to Recovery" closet.
"I feel that the American Cancer Society is very valuable in the community and serves a lot of people." LaVonne said. "Cancer is one of our big health problems. My father-in-law, mother-in-law and brother had cancer. My husband has actually had some cancer recently. We've been dealing with it quite a bit in our own family. It's just a very important thing for people to be involved with. Cancer touches almost every family sooner or later."
LaVonne said she felt blessed working with the countless deserving clients all these years, as well as with dedicated volunteer friends who genuinely care about the patients' welfare. She looks back with fond memories over her days as a volunteer driver.
Stephanie Weiter, director of Cancer Control Generalist with the Heartland Division of the American Cancer Society, is amazed at LaVonne's dedication, ease and people skills in assisting cancer patients over the years.
"She has a tireless effort and dedication to helping cancer patients of Douglas County," Weiter said. "LaVonne's very easy to talk to. She makes you feel very comfortable."
As for the future, LaVonne just wants to continue helping others and revel in the day-to-day moments that capture her imagination, including spending quality time with her family and singing in the church choir. Asked her secret for happiness in coping with C.O.'s illness, LaVonne flashes a sweet beaming smile. Her voice grows soft with meaning.
"I try to take the positive things in life and build on those," she said. "I'd rather look at the glass half full than half empty. It's a lot more fun to smile than it is to frown and talk about your problems."