Patient-turned-volunteer gives back after cancer treatment

Brenda Ingles spreads hope to others in Radiation Oncology

Brenda Ingles
Brenda Ingles

A lengthy hospital stay or tough health issue may keep a lot of folks from wanting to spend time in any medical building, but that’s not the case for Brenda Ingles.

Despite her 21 radiation treatments for breast cancer, Ingles couldn’t wait to come back to the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Today, she volunteers two times a week in the UC Davis Health Department of Radiation Oncology.

“Life can be normal after cancer,” Ingles says. “Always get up, dress up, show up and never give up.”

Ingles, 57, volunteers up to 12 hours a week. One day she may be folding clean linens, another she’s sprucing up the waiting room or making copies of new patient information packets. She’s always happy to help. While administrative support is a priority, Ingles also enjoys the one-on-one patient interaction.

“What I love most is when patients feel secure enough to open up,” says, smiling warmly. “I want them to feel safe and cared about.”

Ingles was diagnosed July 18, 2016 with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct. Fortunately, DCIS is a noninvasive form of the disease and her cancer didn’t spread. Ingles’ physicians, UC Davis Health breast cancer experts Candice Sauder and Mili Arora, prescribed a lumpectomy to remove the malignant breast tissue followed by a four-week course of radiation therapy with UC Davis Health radiation oncologist Richard Valicenti.

Although she felt stressed and scared, Ingles drew strength from a fantastic support system that included her then 17-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son, her mother and two of her siblings. At the time of her diagnosis, Ingles was a preschool teacher in Sacramento.

“The disease is not something I dwell on,” she says. “I am not my cancer; my cancer is just a part of me.”

Ingles celebrated her final radiation treatment October 25, 2016, though it would not be the last day she spent in the department. Before she left, a radiation therapist told Ingles she’d make a great volunteer – and the idea stuck.

“Brenda epitomizes the values of our volunteers – dedication and conscientiousness,” says Jennifer Kellogg, chief administrative officer in the Department of Radiation Oncology. “Since she is a previous patient, she can also provide rich insight and feedback about what our customers need to ensure their experience provides value.”

Her doctor agrees.

“She (Brenda) is a dedicated and hardworking volunteer and is committed to the patients as any of the excellent full-time staff,” adds Valicenti, a professor and chair for the Department of Radiation Oncology.

When she felt well enough, Ingles registered to become a UC Davis Health volunteer. While she originally considered another program, the Radiation Oncology Department kept calling.

“This is where I am supposed to be,” she says. “When I walk through these halls, life is good. This is where my heart is.”