The Cross Cancer Institute is known for the exceptional and compassionate care given to each patient. The work put in by the volunteers at the Cross Cancer Institute does not go unnoticed by the patients and family members they interact with daily. Today, we say thank you for the positive and warm environment these volunteers continuously provide to every person who walks through the doors of this world-class institute.
Jenna and Susan tell us what inspired them to start volunteering, what the Cross Cancer Institute means to the Edmonton community, and what the We Cross Cancer campaign means to them.
Jenna Evanchuk is a 2nd year MSc student at the University of Alberta, specializing in Nutrition and Metabolism. She is also a dedicated volunteer at the Cross Cancer Institute.
“Volunteering is a huge part of my life,” Jenna expresses.
When not in her lab or reading papers – or volunteering at the Cross – Jenna is eating and cooking. “I’m a huge foodie,” she confesses. Some of her other hobbies include long distance running, knitting, and crocheting.
Jenna has been volunteering at the Cross Cancer Institute since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Her role back then was called Friendly Visiting, which entailed visiting patients the in-patient units and conversing with them, or bringing them snacks and drinks. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, the program has been halted, as the patients are immunocompromised and at high risk.
Jenna is now at the wig salon, shaving patients’ heads and fitting them to wigs. She explains that she and the other volunteers try to find the best wig that the patients are happy with. “It’s kind of like trying on clothes,” she remarks.
Jenna’s enthusiasm for volunteering also shows through her Alberta Health Services Volunteer Orientation Facilitator role, where she provides orientation sessions to new volunteers.
“As volunteers, we have the gift of time,” Jenna muses.
Amongst many memorable moments, one of Jenna’s favourite parts of volunteering at the Cross is finding the perfect wig for patients. “Hair loss is devastating for some patients, but if they can find that perfect wig, and the moment they put that wig on… there’s really no way to describe it.”
Jenna also enjoys being a conversation partner to the patients and speaking to them about non-cancer topics – their families, home lives, and where they come from.
“There’s lots of moments of joy in volunteering,” Jenna muses. “The interactions may seem small scale but I know they mean the world to the patients and their families.”
One of the main reasons that Jenna began volunteering at the Cross Cancer Institute was due to her family’s history of cancer, including her grandparents and great-aunt. Jenna explains that the Cross brought comfort, understanding, and clarity to the situation, and that she wanted to give back to them.
In terms of medical and cancer research, Jenna states: “As a researcher and volunteer in the medical sector [in Alberta], I’m really proud of the life-changing research in healthcare that is being delivered through truly world-class institutions, like the Cross Cancer, around the province.”
Having lived in the province her whole life, Jenna believes that overall, Alberta has a great quality of life. “I love Alberta and being here.”
Jenna is also enthusiastic about the We Cross Cancer Campaign. “I think it’s really incredible and it just makes me really happy that it’s front of mind continuously,” she reflects. “The funding will impact lives not only in this generation, but also many generations to come, because we continue to fight cancer.”
From family experience with cancer as well as volunteer experience at the Cross Cancer Institute, Jenna has some wisdom about cancer to share: “Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone, anytime, at any life stage… Cancer is different in every single person.”
“While there’s great advancements in research,” Jenna reflects, “I do think that it will be a fight for a long time. I think this [We Cross Cancer Campaign] money means everything to improve care.”
Susan Jensen is a retired Microbiology professor from the University of Alberta, and was born and raised in Edmonton. She is also a long-time volunteer at the Cross Cancer Institute.
Susan’s role as a volunteer is at the Patient and Family Resource Center. As their motto, “care and comfort” suggests, Susan provides all of the non-medical aspects of the treatments of cancer.
“The Cross as a treatment hospital is so streamlined and efficient to treat the maximum number of patients that sometimes the softer side gets lost,” Susan observes.
Thanks to her role, Susan is able to provide this softer side, including accommodation for patients coming from out of town; ride services to the hospital; and pamphlets about the different types of cancer, their respective treatments, and the side effects.
Susan also enjoys the opportunity to speak with people from all over Alberta, and even outside of the province, such as the Northwest Territories. “[I enjoy] just hearing their story and doing what we can to help them,” she says.
Susan began volunteering at the Cross Cancer Institute eight years ago, in 2014, and remarks that the institute was a big and impressive part of the community. Thanks to her background in microbiology, Susan had some prior understanding of cancer, as well as some overlap from speakers and sessions during her time at the U of A.
Susan speaks positively about her experience volunteering at the Cross, and thinks fondly about seeing how grateful the patients and families are for the institute’s help. “It’s really wonderful,” she says.
Susan also commends the Cross Cancer staff. “I’m so impressed – they really go out of their way to help the patients,” she expresses. “It’s been a really rewarding experience working there.”
Susan is also grateful to the Alberta Heritage Foundation for providing medical research. “I’m very impressed and proud of the whole medical community in Alberta,” she states. “I think we have an excellent cancer hospital, [and] excellent researchers.”
In regards to the We Cross Cancer Campaign, Susan wishes them success in their campaign, as cancer research, treatment, and facilities require constant funding.
“There’s certainly an ongoing and ever-increasing need for research in cancer,” Susan comments. She also notes the importance of clinical trials and their heavy costs: “Those can be horrendously expensive if they’re not supported.”
“Any source of funding for cancer research is all welcome,” Susan remarks.
Learn about how you can volunteer with the Cross Cancer Institute here.