Don Vaughn has been a Red Apron WINGS volunteer at West Cancer Center’s Midtown location for over seven years. In early November, he was presented with the first place gold medal for the President’s Volunteer Service Award – having completed over 2,000 service hours in 2016 alone. He arrives to West Cancer Center every morning at 6:45 am to get the first pot of coffee brewing before patients arrive at 7:00 am and he doesn’t leave until 4:30 pm, once the day’s work is finished.
Don’s personal experience with cancer – as both a caregiver and skin cancer patient– has provided him with the ability to relate to patients on a much deeper level, from diagnosis to treatments – he’s been through it all. Don and his twin brother first took on the role of caregiver after their mother was diagnosed with Lung Cancer and passed away four months later at the age of 87. Shortly after, their father was diagnosed and lost his battle with Stomach Cancer. Despite his experience with caregiving, nothing prepared him for the road ahead as his best friend – and roommate – fought for his life.
One night at dinner, Don’s friend asked him to feel an abnormal lump on his neck – a lump which was later discovered to be Lymphatic Cancer. Don took care of his friend through chemotherapy, surgery to remove his PCS muscle in his neck, several rounds of painful radiation, and surgery to remove six of his teeth. After nine years of being in remission, the cancer came back – this time, as Stage 4 Esophageal Cancer, requiring placement of a feeding tube. Don completed training to learn how to irrigate, dress the site, and everything that needed to be done for the feeding tube. After six months of Don providing around-the-clock care, his friend’s doctor recommended he get help from hospice. His friend passed away less than a month later – leaving Don time to dedicate his time to volunteering again.
“I wouldn’t be here as many hours a day, five days a week, if I didn’t enjoy it. This is my purpose in life and it is – and has been – the most rewarding, exciting, incredibly beautiful gift that God could ever have given me. My goal is to make coming to infusion as pleasant as possible. The most rewarding thing I’ve experienced is when patients here for their check-ups come into infusion just to give me a hug on their way out the door. A hug is a paycheck for me – actually, it’s more than a paycheck for me.”