Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Veteran cancer survivor inspired by volunteers at local VA hospital

By Vaseline May27,2024
Veteran cancer survivor inspired by volunteers at local VA hospital

Meet Diana Wong, winner of the Daily Point of Light Award. Read her story and nominate a special volunteer or family as a Daily Light Point.

Diana Wong, a three-time cancer survivor, is a testament to perseverance. In 1990, after nine years in the Air Force, a job she loved and a military legacy started by her father’s 26 years in the military, she was forced to leave due to policy as she began her first battle with cancer . For more than fifteen years, she relied on the Albuquerque VA Medical Center, where she began volunteering in 2005.

She has since expanded into many different veteran-associated roles with Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary (DAV), American Legion Auxiliary, AMVETS, Wounded Warriors, etc. She also started an all-female Color Guard team in 2014. services earned her the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for surpassing 4,000 hours of volunteer service this year, the latest in a long line of citizenship awards.

Additionally, Diana works with civic groups such as Navajo Ministries (recently renamed Four Corners Home for Children) and American Cancer Society. While she may not have been in uniform as long as she would have liked, her long-standing dedication and strong sense of empathy have made possible the support that both veterans and civilians facing their own battles would have lost without.

What inspires you to volunteer?

When I first got out, I actually didn’t want anything to do with military organizations because I was angry. But as God wanted, he continued to place me in the VA hospital. I got sick again, and a third time. I thought, OK, you’re trying to tell me something. I have been going to this VA hospital for 35 years and they have taken very good care of me. I saw volunteers there and decided I wanted to serve that way because they were there for me.

My parents were also big volunteers. You never said you were bored with them because they would find something for you to do, like pull weeds in the neighbor’s yard.

Diana Wong donates her time to many different organizations that support both veterans and civilians, many of which support her local VA hospital.

Tell us about your volunteer role at your local VA hospital and beyond.

About twenty years ago they asked me to help with the Women Veterans’ Clothing Closet. We collect clothing for inpatients from the Star Program and the domicile. And all VAs have a Popcorn program to raise money. I’ve been doing that for 15 years now.

The VA hospital always needs supplies, and no military organization can handle it all. So if you belong to several, you can always find ways to help. I belong to the American Legion and the VFW. They have their own programs. For example, on holidays we make gifts and take them to the hospital for hospital patients. It’s all intertwined.

I have also been helping at the VA chapel every Sunday for 18 years. And I volunteer at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial. I help monitor their reception and teach flag education (flag etiquette, history of cranes, how to retire a flag, etc.) to schools, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and others.

We started an all-female Color Guard team around 2016. We have about 15 women and we do everything from graduations to special events, sporting events, funerals, military organization events, etc. We are going to Angel Fire here in New Mexico to have a commemoration ceremony this Memorial weekend. They just built a new Walmart here, and they want us to bring the flags for them too.

I am involved with another Honor Guard unit, American Legion Post 13. We hold funerals in Santa Fe at the National Cemetery. When a veteran dies, they call us to do the gunfire and hand over the flag to the relatives.

I am here at the DAV, Post 33, and I am involved in their aid organization. Once a month we throw a party for department 7, the psychiatric department. We bring in food and talk to them. We also bring water and snacks to the oncology unit and other areas of the VA so patients can have something to eat after they finish their treatments. And the Albuquerque Fisher House is next door, so we help with that too.

In September we are doing a suicide prevention ride with the American Legion Riders to raise awareness. We lose 22 veterans a day to suicide. We do our full ceremony for that, also in memory of those we have lost.

I am also involved with the American Cancer Society. I played for the Relay for Life for 18 years. I visited sixteen towns in the state of New Mexico every summer. I couldn’t carry the equipment anymore, so I had to slow down. I was also the New Mexico State Ambassador for District One, and we went to Washington DC every year to talk about her cancer issues.

As part of a national program, Diana sells popcorn to raise money for VA volunteer efforts.

You have also been a member of the Honoring Women in Military Planning Committee. Can you tell us about that?

The tribute to women in the military began in 1985. I was stationed here at Kirtland Air Force Base at the time and was only 25 years old when I went to my first one. I attended there from ’85 to ’88, and then I came back in ’96 and started working for the regional VA office. My manager asked me if I wanted to represent the office. So I started going to meetings, and I’ve been involved with the Tribute for about 28 years now. I’m the president. We honor the past, present and future of all female veterans from all branches of the military.

What has been the most rewarding part of your job?

When we do the Color Guard tasks, people are so grateful. It is an honor to attend veterans’ funerals and perform the gunfire as a final tribute. It’s very human and very humiliating.

A friend called me recently and asked if I knew anyone who needed an electric wheelchair or hospital bed. I went to the American Legion and started asking around, and lo and behold, a lady had called earlier that morning saying she needed an electric wheelchair for her sister. So I put them in touch. It is valuable to help such a person.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

This Sunday in church the priest spoke about the fact that everyone has a gift. He was talking about one of the women who plays the piano during mass every week. Mass remains Mass, with or without music, but she comes every week to share her gift. Everyone has one to give. That’s our way of paying it forward.

Do you want to make a difference in your community just like Diana? Find local volunteer opportunities.

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