To pursue the mission, add the humans

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Health Corps team at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, Baltimore, Maryland

By Lynne Driscoll, Director – Intellectual Property, IBM

We get distracted and buried in our own problems of traffic jams when running low on gas, missing an important email from your boss, batteries dying on our mobile devices at the inopportune time, frantically running kids to soccer/band/scouts, or Amazon not getting your order to your door in the two days PROMISED under Prime.  Sacre bleu!

And then…

And then…

…you get your internal compass reset.

While doing some out-bound community service as part of our IBM Health Corps special project to build a cancer care tool to help the oncologists in low resource Sub-Saharan African countries, my internal needle was spun around this week.

Hope Lodge is a place that cancer patients and their families, who may travel from far away to get treatment at local Baltimore medical facilities, can stay for free of charge.  Beautiful facility, well organized, well staffed, and… as well…emotionally moving. The IBM Health Corps team provided and served dinner to over 40+ people who were using the facility.

Following the strict instructions of the events organizer Jacki (seen above), we donned our hairnets, put on the sterile gloves, avoided the bone marrow transplant tables, made note of the disinfectant location and served dinner.  Then when our guests were sufficiently served and fed, we joined them.  My dinner companions included a man who is a 10-yr survivor of prostate cancer and traveled around the country ‘volunteering’ for the experimental treatments; a young, pretty mother of  8yr old and 10 yr old children getting a newer proton treatment for her breast cancer (who’s husband could only come up 1x a week because of the child care strain); a lovely gentleman with esophageal cancer who was not fairing well with his treatment (and interestingly, his wife worked at IBM in the 1960’s as an admin).  And finally, a young man, not much older than 30, who traveled from Japan for his second occurrence of brain cancer.

Our dinner conversations were insightful at times, uncomfortable at other times, and surprisingly cheerful with some laughs.  They were so so keen on what we were doing.  They all told me that they had to be their biggest advocate to find their treatments (not the physicians), and could this tool be made available to people like them who have to sort through volumes of internet research to push for the latest and strong hope for the best available treatments? I took all their comments and stories to heart.  I was in awe of their strength.

I left the event emotionally drained yet intellectually uplifted.  While this specific project for IBM Health Corps is focused on Africa and what are ‘Third World’ problems with the lack or resources or consistent drug availability, its time for all of us to properly gauge the importance of our ‘First World’ problems because we are all humans just trying to survive.  Be it in Baltimore at the Hope Lodge, be it in Ghana at a doctor’s office.

Remember these people I will.  To think about the impact of what we are doing on this project —  and  —  remind myself of what is really important when my specially packaged southern corn grits are shipped ‘late’ from a warehouse.

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