“I’m not just a volunteer,” at the Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre (GBCSC), says Karen Ryan with a laugh, “I’m also a member.”
Ryan has experienced cancer from all sides. Not only is she a cancer survivor herself, but her daughter is also a leukemia survivor, and four and half years ago she lost her husband to pancreatic cancer.
After her husband died, Ryan started volunteering for the GBCSC because of her family’s history, and because her daughter was already a member.
“Life goes on,” Ryan says of her decision to devote her time to helping people navigate their treatment, recovery, and support. “You have to keep motivated, and I didn’t want to curl up and die.”
The retiree doesn’t only volunteer at the GBCSC, she’s also a Lioness, and helps at the museum.
Ryan shares her knowledge and strength, and the experiences she gained while navigating the health-care system over the course of her daughter’s 30-plus-year fight with leukemia, and the loss of her husband.
Having lived through all of that and her own bout with cancer, Ryan says, “I knew I could make a difference, and you’ve got to get out of bed in the morning.”
Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre has provided emotional, physical, social, spiritual support, education and information for people affected by cancer since 2011. It aims to be a motivational resource for people living with cancer, their families, and caregivers, and currently serves more than 200 members in the Georgian Bay area.
The kind of support offered by GBCSC has been crucial during the pandemic because of the isolation faced by anyone who's immune-compromised. Likewise, the impact of COVID-19 on people affected by cancer has yet to be seen.
Due to COVID-19 disruptions, cancer screening programs have been interrupted, which researchers forecast will delay diagnoses, and increase the number of avoidable cancer deaths, according to a U.S. government agency, with hospitals now catching-up since intensive-care units are less burdened by COVID-19 cases.
Ryan recognizes how COVID-19 has impacted the community that she works to support at the centre.
“It can be pretty bleak for people at times, and I just want to put a smile on their faces. I give a lot of hugs,” Ryan says of how she gives back. “Of course, not now with the pandemic.”
While hugs are not something Ryan has been able to give out recently due to the pandemic, the centre has continued offering online support groups, yoga and more.
The problem with these kinds of interactions is that “people are tired, and they just don’t want to do it anymore,” Ryan explains.
Ryan and her daughter had been running the Let’s Create program doing arts and crafts for and with the centre’s many members. However, with COVID restrictions, the last time they could run the program was at Christmas.
For this year’s Strawberry Social in late June, Ryan and her daughter filled more than 100 strawberry jam containers that helped raise $3,000 for the centre to run programs and pay service providers.
The centre lives by a saying: “With every member, there is a story. With every member, there is hope.”
Ryan’s perseverance demonstrates how hope and a sense of humour can give you and those around you a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Sandy Cornell, the agency's founder, found her reason to get out of bed by creating the community at the centre.
“A cancer diagnosis can take so much from you, I am proud to have been given the strength from my family and friends, to forge on and fight for what I believe in,” says Cornell.
The Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre aims to give hope, comfort, strength and courage to those affected by cancer, and they are always looking for more volunteers.
For more information on becoming a member, donating, or volunteering your time, visit Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre.