You’ve likely spotted volunteer Hank Lewis serving refreshments and sweet treats around the North Carolina Cancer Hospital — but his true talent is helping patients feel more at ease.
If you’ve spent time at the N.C. Cancer Hospital over the past two years, Hank Lewis is likely a familiar face. He volunteers with several programs, but most will associate him with the teacart service. Lewis serves coffee, tea and cookies to patients and caregivers – but it’s not just the sweet treats that make him a welcome sight around the hospital. He also helps brighten patients’ days by chatting with them and, more importantly, listening to them. He says as a prostate cancer survivor he understands the challenges of undergoing cancer treatment.
We spoke with Lewis to learn more about him and what motivates him to dedicate his time to the N.C. Cancer Hospital.
Tell us about your role as a teacart volunteer and what does that entail?
“I make sure we have a good supply of coffee, tea, hot chocolate and cookies before I set off on my rounds. Then I go and serve multidisciplinary patients and oncology in-patients. I also visit the lobby areas where family members and friends are waiting for patients. I like to talk to everyone as I serve refreshments. I have a dry wit and I like to joke around. People will ask me how much the coffee is and I’ll joke that it’s $8 but it includes the cup. I try to loosen things up a little bit and lighten the mood.”
What inspired you to start volunteering here?
“I just wanted to feel like I was doing something of value, so I called the volunteer office to find out about open opportunities and this seemed like a natural fit. I hope I can cheer people up, but I also get a lot out of being here. I’ll meet a patient and they’ll share their story with me, and I go home and think ‘gosh, I can’t complain about what’s going on in my life.’ It makes you really grateful for what you have.”
Can you share any volunteering moments that have been truly rewarding?
“Every year, I also volunteer as Santa at Christmas. One year I was assigned to the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, and a nurse came out of a patient’s room and asked me to wait. She said, ‘Let me bring my patient out, he needs someone to lift his spirits.’ His mother and father wheeled him out and I knelt down beside him. We started chatting and I said to him, ‘Whatever is ravaging your body, don’t let it ravage your spirit. Keep your spirit in tact.’ I hope for just a brief moment, I helped him.”
What advice do you have for someone thinking about volunteering?
“Volunteering is wonderful, but your first step is finding something you’re comfortable with and really making a time commitment. I think my own gift is a sensitivity to others, which makes teacart service a perfect fit for me. At times, I’ll self-disclose and share my own story. I’ll be talking to a patient about radiation treatment and share with them that I went through that six years ago myself, so I truly understand.”