Anytime Darlene Bratberg brings a smile to someone’s face, it’s been a good day. Those smiles are the reason she volunteers at Willmar Regional Cancer Center. As a retired ACMC nurse, it gives her a way to continue to connect with patients even if they aren’t officially her patients. It’s also one way she honors loved ones who’ve battled cancer.
From Nurse to Volunteer
But she doesn’t visit as Darlene, she comes as Happy the clown. She’s been clowning it up for more than 30 years, volunteering to bring joy and laughter to Willmar Regional Cancer Center, Rice Hospice, dialysis at Rice Hospital and local churches and community programs.
Darlene’s been a volunteer at WRCC since 2009. She fondly remembers the first visit she made to the Cancer Center as Happy. The patient was a woman who was a dear friend, and though she has since passed away, it was the beginning of Darlene bringing joy and laughter into Willmar Regional Cancer Center.
It strikes her that, without Happy, she’d never have met so many wonderful people like this patient whom she still thinks about from time to time.
“You see a lot of sad things in the medical field, but you also see so much good. One afternoon I walked into a treatment room to see a man who had his whole family with him. One person was noticeably absent – his son who was serving overseas. He was so glad to see Happy that he asked his wife to go get a video camera so they could record the moment to share with their son,” she said. “That stayed with me. Even in his toughest moments, he was living life to the fullest. That’s what I try to do every day.”
Giving Back to the Community and Willmar Regional Cancer Center
“I’m 73 and volunteering at Willmar Regional Cancer Center still pumps me up. I just feel that this is how I want to live life—giving back to others. That’s it for me. I am so blessed with these little things that make my life worth living,” Darlene said.
As a former nurse, Darlene realizes how important Willmar Regional Cancer Center is to the community. And as a 24-year breast cancer survivor herself, she also understands how cancer can impact someone’s life. That’s why she continues to visit WRCC, visiting patients undergoing chemotherapy. Living in a community like Willmar, Darlene has seen a number of patients she’s known through the years.
“For many people cancer is such a private journey. You don’t always know that someone is battling cancer,” she said. “I’m blessed to be a part of their journey. When I walk out the door as Happy, I say ‘God, use me today.’ And I’m amazed at the ways He does. Seeing patients at the Cancer Center, I can do something small, like getting them to laugh, to make their day.”
Though she can’t imagine her life without the Willmar Regional Cancer Center, when the day comes that she no longer volunteers, she’ll look back on her time at WRCC with fond memories.
“It’s been so awesome. Every time I volunteer at the Cancer Center, I leave thinking this is the best day! I don’t how many more best days I can keep having. I think humor is so important especially in difficult times, and if I can make a difference for one cancer patient or their family, I’ve done what I was meant to do,” she said.