SPARTANBURG — Lyell Garland is a 28 year colon cancer survivor. So he can relate to the patients he meets as a volunteer greeter at Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute.
“I know how to talk to them,” he said.
And that can be important for patients facing frightening diagnoses or difficult treatment.
Occasionally, patients tell him how they’re going strong – or just getting along – at 75 or 80. He said feels a little reluctant to tell them his age. He’s 93.
Garland and his wife, Shirley, 88, both volunteer for Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. She works in the business office, now located at Beaumont.
But their ages don’t slow them down from getting involved in the community to serve others.
“I can’t sit back and watch the television. I’ve got to do something,” Lyell said. “I like to meet people and help in any way I can.”
Learn how you can volunteer for Spartanburg Regional.
He and Shirley enjoyed lengthy careers and raised two children. They have five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. The Garlands moved to Spartanburg from Delaware in 1998 to be closer to their family. Along with volunteering for Spartanburg Regional, the couple continues to look out for opportunities to stay involved.
He helps deliver food with Mobile Meals and volunteers with Total Ministries, in addition to the Wednesdays he spends at Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute in Spartanburg. As patients and visitors come into the cancer center, he is there to provide information and directions. Oftentimes, he’ll walk with a guest to show the way.
“He’s such a gentleman,” said Jill Dugaw, volunteer services manager. “A lot of times, someone will come in and they aren’t sure where they’re supposed to be. Maybe they need to be at the adjacent Bearden-Josey Center for Breast Health building. He will walk them over there instead of just telling them.”
Shirley started off as a volunteer in the gift shop at Spartanburg Medical Center. But having worked as an administrative assistant in a school district payroll department, she thought she could be more valuable somewhere else and enjoys working in the business office.
Shirley and Lyell are among the more than 200 volunteers who provide support at Spartanburg Medical Center and Beaumont. Volunteers help patients and guests throughout Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, including at Pelham Medical Center and Spartanburg Regional Hospice.
Lyell served in the Army during World War II, and the Garlands were married in 1948.
The key to a long marriage, according to Shirley?
“Take it day by day,” she said. “And we’ve taken the good Lord into our life from the beginning.”
Lyell’s job took them to Delaware, where they and their children enjoyed life as a tight-knit family.
He said his faith helped him get through his battle with colon cancer in the late 1980s. Doctors originally told him that his condition would require a colostomy. Lyell decided to research other options. He found a specialist in Philadelphia who was able to treat his cancer without such long-range, damaging effects. But it required 26 radiation sessions – and a good deal of time away from home.
Lyell becomes friends with some of the patients he meets at Gibbs as they come and go over the duration of their treatment. Patients are, of course, thrilled when they complete successful treatment, he said, but some have formed bonds with their caregivers and are sad to leave them behind.
“I tell patients I meet that I had to drive two hours for treatment they can get right here at home,” he said.
The cancer center will soon offer even more for patients in the region; Spartanburg Regional Foundation is leading a campaign to raise $15 million in support of a $65 million expansion of Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute at Pelham.
“I’ve had people say, ‘I’ve been treated so well, I’m going to miss them,’” he said.
Lyell and Shirley have no plans to stop their volunteer activities just yet. He said it depends on how their health is holding up, adding, “I think the good Lord will tell us when it’s time.”