Clara Cook Lambert: From Cancer Patient to Energetic Volunteer
For the past three and a half years, Clara Cook Lambert has spent every Thursday morning volunteering at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Greater Heights. A few years before that, she was a cancer patient herself, coping with the same physical and emotional challenges facing the people she now supports.
“When you say, ‘Hi, my name is Clara, I’m a lung cancer survivor and I’ve been out seven years,’ patients are very happy to see you,” says Lambert, who radiates high spirits and positive energy when she introduces herself to patients in her Survivor T-shirt. “These people are scared, just like I was, and they need someone who’s been through it to talk to and cheer them on.”
Like many malignancies, Lambert’s cancer was an incidental finding. “I have allergies that caused a variety of temporary illnesses and saw my ENT about every six months,” she says. “As long as I took my antibiotics and steroids, I was as good as gold. When my ENT retired, I started going to a different doctor who didn’t believe in steroids. When I still had a problem after my second round of antibiotics, he told me he thought there was something else going on and ordered a chest X-ray.”
The X-ray revealed a mass in her right lung, and the ENT referred her to Michael P. Macris, M.D., a thoracic and vascular surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital. At the time Lambert was still smoking.
“Dr. Macris told me he wouldn’t take me into surgery until I’d stopped smoking for two weeks,” Lambert says. “I said to myself, he wants two weeks so I’m giving him three. Three weeks from the day I quit we went into surgery. When I woke up, they told me I had cancer.”
Over the course of 35 radiation sessions and six chemotherapy sessions, the staff at the Cancer Center got to know Lambert. Impressed by her positive energy and attitude, they asked her to come back as a volunteer.
“I did, but it took me a couple of years,” she says. “For me it was hard to come back right away because of the emotional side of the experience. When I was done, I just wanted to be far away from there.”
Today, as a member of the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center team, Lambert has nothing but good things to say about her experience. “Every one of our patients is important to us,” she says. “There’s an intensity of purpose and a feeling that we can do what we do better than anyone else. We want to go above and beyond the normal protocol with the sole purpose of being the very best. As a patient I felt like I was getting the best care I could have gotten anywhere in the world. When I tell patients that, it’s the absolute truth. I’ve lived it.”
When she’s not volunteering, Lambert, who is 70, stays busy as a real estate agent and helps people organize their lives through her image consulting company, Clarafications. Indefatigable, she recently married John W. Perkins, whom she met through an online dating service.
“At the Cancer Center, everybody brings skills to the table and mine happen to be as a former patient,” she says. “When you’re healing, you need positive energy and I like to provide that. It’s a ride, but when you get to the end and your patients walk away, you hug them and then you miss them terribly.”