One of Linda Bonow's favorite quotes is, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." She is reminded of that saying each time she gives a cancer patient a hand massage as part of Mayo Clinic's Caring Hands program.
"It can be a long day for patients getting chemotherapy," Bonow says. "When I go into a patient's room, introduce myself and offer a hand massage, my hope is to provide comfort and ease."
Bonow, who has been a volunteer with Caring Hands for three years, says a big part of the experience is sensing what each patient needs at a particular moment.
"Sometimes they want to visit; other times they may want to be quiet," Bonow says. "I feel that their care and healing is physical, emotional and spiritual and try to meet them where they're at."
Caring Hands began in 2006 as a way to help patients relax and ease their stress. Volunteers offer hand massages in 31 areas on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, including Cardiovascular Surgery, the Cancer Education Center, Infusion Therapy, Medical Oncology, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, Radiation Oncology, and the Transplant Center, as well as in areas that provide dialysis and chemotherapy. The program also extends to the Intermediate Special Care Nursery, where it serves parents whose infants are patients in the unit. Last year, more than 100 program volunteers provided a total of 8,824 hand massages.
To be eligible to participate in Caring Hands, volunteers complete a two-part training. Part one includes learning the basic technique for a hand massage and practicing it for a week. During part two, new volunteers demonstrate the technique by providing a hand massage to a trainer. Then volunteers are taught the ins and outs of their assigned areas and how to approach patients.
"We worked closely with our massage therapists on the technique and engage in infection prevention and control, so specific protocols, such as washing your hands, sanitizing them and putting gloves on, are followed," says Becky Hynes, the volunteer manager who oversees Caring Hands in the outpatient areas.
"Hearing a patient express how nice it was to have his mind taken off chemotherapy for 20 minutes is very gratifying," Hynes says. "This invaluable service allows patients to focus their energy and their thoughts on something more positive."
Bonow began volunteering with Caring Hands after retiring from a 23-year career with the Ronald McDonald House.
"I was drawn to Caring Hands because of the one-on-one support it offers patients," she says. "To play one small part in their care is part of who I am."
"Linda has a sincere passion for Caring Hands," Hynes adds.
Results of a research study conducted in the outpatient chemotherapy area showed the hand massages do make a difference, and they have a meaningful impact on patients.
"We asked patients to rate, on a scale from 1 to 10, the symptoms and feelings they were going through during their treatment, such as pain, fatigue and anxiety," Hynes says. "All of these reduced with the hand massages, and the patients' emotional well-being improved."
That's a significant motivator for Bonow as she volunteers with Caring Hands.
"I am inspired by having a glimpse of what each patient is going through, understanding they may be trying to keep up their job or school, and they have loved ones at home," she says. "If what I can provide allows them to let go of those worries for even a short time, that's a gift."