Often patients with cancer need someone with a sympathetic ear. They won’t find a better listener than Lydia Allerheiligen, a volunteer at the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Lydia has beaten cancer not once, but twice. She understands what patients are going through as they face treatment. And, she has experienced the grief of losing loved ones.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” Lydia says of patients. “They are looking for someone to talk to. They want to have hope. They want to live through the experience.”
No one understands the trauma of cancer better than Lydia. She had a brain tumor and then breast cancer. Her husband passed away after losing his battle with cancer of the kidney.
“I go into the chemotherapy and drug trial areas at the Cancer Center,” Lydia explains. “I just strike up a conversation, and soon we are talking about our shared experiences.”
Lydia volunteers in the Soul Friends program designed to offer emotional and spiritual support to patients. She usually visits the Cancer Center once a week to console and uplift patients.
In addition to listening, Lydia offers materials to help patients deal with complications from treatment. Brochures are available on issues ranging from fatigue to depression and spiritual turmoil.
“I can’t say enough about the experience,” Lydia says. “I’m not a counselor, but I know what cancer does to you. I am always willing to listen to patients. My own story offers them hope.”
Lydia volunteered after her daughter, Kelley Frost, recommended that she become involved at the Cancer Center. Kelly, a longtime supporter of the center, currently serves on the Cancer Center’s board of governors.
“I was involved with a grief ministry program, when, one day, Kelly urged me to look into the Cancer Center,” Lydia recalls. “I did, and I found the volunteer work very rewarding.”
Sometimes her encounters with patients can even leave the upbeat Lydia feeling a little blue.
“I don’t allow myself to cry in there (treatment rooms),” Lydia explains. “I try to stay happy. But when I know a person might not live, I have to leave the room.”
That emotional attachment is something Lydia understands. Sharing thoughts with someone on subjects like spirituality deepens the connection between volunteer and patient.
But Lydia enjoys the camaraderie.
The Cancer Center patients who have met Lydia would agree — the feeling is mutual.