Alberta Cancer Foundation

The Cross Cancer’s volunteer association turns 50

We’re all busy. Finding time to “friend” someone on Facebook is sometimes as much as we can muster, never mind befriending someone in a real-life situation. But that’s just what a lot of volunteers do with hours they’ve carved out of their busy schedules. Volunteers at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute share their time and energy, often making a difference in patients’ lives as well as their own. And it’s not a new endeavor.
Half a century ago, the then-director of Cancer Clinics of Alberta, Dr. Robert G. Moffat, hoped volunteers would fill the missing link and add to the care regimen his patients already received at the Edmonton Cancer Clinic. His efforts led to 24 volunteers assembling for the first time on February 18, 1963. They started sharing stories, refreshments and hugs with cancer patients on a regular basis – it was the humble beginnings of today’s Cross Cancer Institute Volunteer Association. The bar was set high and volunteers have continued to expand their offerings to patients. Volunteers run the programs with funds from donations and profits from the volunteer-run gift shop, bookstore and coffee shop.
Today, patients at the Cross interact with about 12 of the 50 volunteers who work at the hospital on any given day, sometimes in the shuttle van, lab or even in their own hospital room where volunteers swing by just to chat. Volunteers rave about the supportive atmosphere they feel in the hospital, and word-of-mouth attracts people of all ages and experiences to fill the four-hour shifts in the association’s 25 programs.
This fall, more than 400 volunteers will help celebrate 50 years of the Cross Cancer Institute Volunteer Association’s success with patients and staff. Meet just a few of the many of the volunteers who make a difference in patients’ lives at the Cross Cancer Institute each week.

Mark Armstrong is a five-year volunteer as an inpatient friendly visitor.
What he does: Visits and chats with patients and their family members.
What he says: Many people volunteer because they’ve been touched by cancer, but that’s not the case with me. I just wanted to do something meaningful. One patient, a girl, was at the Cross for six months where I got to know her really well – she’s had brain tumours since age seven. She had a Snoopy/Peanuts video that she loved and, on a whim, bought me a Snoopy/Charlie Brown figurine. I’m a big kid with toys – motorcycles! – but this became our thing, toys. I bought her a Snoopy doll on a recent trip.
“I’m amazed by the grace and strength I see in people. I don’t worry about things as much as I did before volunteering. I’ve been very lucky, I have a great life. I think volunteering is one of the most important things to me.

Marilyn Kerr is a 16-year volunteer in wig services and the Cancer Information Centre.
What she does: Fits wigs and shaves heads (when requested); fields phone calls for program registrations; and works in the library, which offers newly-diagnosed patients cancer-related information.
What she says: After finishing my cancer treatments 16 years ago, I decided to volunteer and give back to everybody who was so good to me. When I went through it, it didn’t matter how much I prepared for losing my hair; it was traumatic. I was in the shower and, all of a sudden, I had handfuls of hair in my hands.
I was totally lost.
“When you explain to people what’s ‘normal’ in cancer treatment, they’re relieved and can move on. It’s really nice to be able to help people get through that.
John Leung is a two-year volunteer with the host(ess) cart, lab medicine, escort and chemo assessment.

What he does: Takes refreshments to patients and family members; completes lab administrative work; escorts patients around hospital for appointments; and offers comfort by refreshments, blankets or conversation to patients undergoing chemotherapy.
What he says: I’m 20 years old and a science student at the University of Alberta. In terms of careers, I definitely want to do something with health. You imagine a cancer hospital to be very gloomy but I find the patients are joyful, even. They constantly smile and say ‘Thank you.’ Like, where do they get this stuff – right?
Shirley Gaudet is an 11-year volunteer for the Cancer Information Centre, new patient information session, children’s tours and past president for the board.

What she does: Facilitates new patient info sessions and tours; works in the library and registration; assists with tours for children of family members receiving treatment; and attends various board meetings.
What she says: I used to work at the Cross and I loved my job. After I retired and thought I’d do some volunteer work, I knew where I would go: back to the place I love. There’s compassion and caring evident in everybody who works here. The patients have such strength and resilience. We attract people from all different walks of life: doctors, professors, housekeeping, retirees, people new to the country and more. We get this variety because volunteers can actually feel that they’re contributing to the good of patients and families.
Edyth Florence is a 22-year volunteer, the last 17 years for gift-shop buying committee.

What she does: Goes to Edmonton and Toronto’s gift shows and purchases items to sell at the Cross gift store.
What she says: I got my 5,000-hour volunteer pin this year. Volunteering is a win-win scenario: it helped me accept losing my parents and a good friend to cancer and the gift shop is a perfect fit for me.
I did a few different things in the beginning, but for about the past 17 or 18 years I’ve been buying for the gift shop. Who wouldn’t want to go shopping for lovely gift items and not have to pay for them? That’s not such a hard job, is it? The profits from the gift shop go right back to the hospital.
Jake Deleeuw is a two-year volunteer van driver, new patient information session leader and a board member.

What he does: Picks up and drops off out-of-town patients who are staying in hotels or at the homes of family and friends; takes them to appointments at the Cross; speaks as a survivor in group info sessions; attends board meetings.
What he says: I had cancer twice, so I relate to patients regarding therapies, side effects and impacts. As a patient, I was quite overcome by what volunteers did and how good the organization was. It was an atmosphere of helping people. I thought it would be neat to be a part of that.
I’m 73, but still quite busy with sports, bicycling and we have a good garden. But driving the van at the Cross is like a day off. Some of the patients aren’t going through relaxing times, but if you can speak a bit of hope into their lives and encourage them – it just makes their journey easier..
Jean Hui is a seven-year volunteer in new patient information sessions and Cancer Information Centre.

What she does: Informs new patients where to access support and guides them to library resources for information about diagnosis, symptom control and treatment.
What she says: I worked at the Cross 30 years ago and remembered how special the work experience was, so I went back to volunteer.
I don’t have older family nearby to see anyone through to their end-of-life phase and, because of that, it’s a mystery to me how people deal with the challenges of old age and illness. But, by watching and talking to patients at the Cross, I slowly understand how people come to terms with a diagnosis and choose a path that’s right for them..
For more information about volunteering, please contact the Cross Cancer Institute’s Volunteer Resources Department at 780-432-8334 or