Sarah's Story: A path to healing

Sarah's Story: A path to healing

Volunteer Profile

When we think of a brain tumour diagnosis, we think immediately about the individual facing the disease. We forget that, in essence, the entire family receives this diagnosis and they each face life’s journey forever changed. 

Twenty-six-year-old Sarah Cunningham’s loss has placed her on a path toward helping others heal. After losing her sister Rachel to a brain tumour in December 2011 (Sarah was 22 and Rachel was just 18), Sarah turned almost immediately to Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, determined to do what she could to help in her sister’s memory. 
 
Sarah’s grief, and the strength she gained from helping others, inspired her to donate countless hours over the past four years running events, raising funds and creating awareness on the charity’s behalf. It also inspired her to seek a career in Occupational Therapy, with the hope that someday soon she will work in a hospital setting, helping brain tumour patients. 
 
She’s one step closer to that dream now, with a Master’s Degree project focused on the development of a program to keep brain tumour survivors engaged in meaningful occupations. “Occupational therapy aims to help people accomplish tasks of everyday living in life and at work,” Sarah explains. “It’s incredibly important for brain tumour survivors to feel empowered and independent.”
 
Sarah’s volunteer experiences and education haven’t always been easy. There have been times in class when a lesson or case study has triggered a special moment she shared with Rachel or a painful memory of the family’s difficult goodbye. And, there have been moments while volunteering that bring Sarah right back to her grief. But she persists, seeing her career and volunteerism as a way to keep Rachel’s story alive. 
 
“My volunteer role with the foundation blends perfectly with my education as a way to keep me connected to my sister,” says Sarah. “Rachel had a great support team and went home for palliative care. I hope my work in occupational therapy will help families make the transition from in-hospital to at-home so they can participate in their own lives as much as possible.”
 
Experts confirm that volunteering is not only a way of giving back, but also a helpful and therapeutic way of paying tribute to those we have lost. Marion Neisen, a Grief Recovery Specialist, says that “the griever will inevitably confront these life changing experiences while giving back, and in many cases, returning to these memories helps us grow, heal and recover.” She adds that, like Sarah, many grievers “feel compelled to share their story with others in an effort to help someone else through their journey of healing and recovery.”   
 
For Sarah, the brain tumour journey has become both personal and professional. Thank you, Sarah, for your passion and purpose as a Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada volunteer. 
 

If you are interested in donating your time and talent, please contact:

Jennifer McIntosh
Manager, Human Resources and Volunteer Development
1-800-265-5106, ext. 231
 
November 2015

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