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2024 Volunteer of Distinction Award – Mary Rawlings 

  April 15, 2024


Calgary, Alta.


Virtual Support Group Volunteer

When Mary Rawling’s husband, Stu, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in September 2016, she jumped into caregiver mode. Living in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. at the time, Stu had been referred to London, Ont. for surgery later that year. Mary, who had been dealing with her own health issues at the time due to a recent hip replacement, called several places in the surrounding area in an effort to expedite Stu’s surgery.

“It was hard watching him deteriorate,” Mary says.

Mary and Stu drove to London that October to meet with Stu’s medical team. They were given a copy of the Adult Brain Tumour Handbook, which is when they thought to visit Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s office in person.

“We were met with very friendly and helpful staff,” Mary recalls. “They reassured us that there were all kinds of information and support available to us.”

Following Stu’s surgery in December 2016 and his subsequent recovery, he began volunteering in a BTFC virtual support group. Mary, seeing how Stu’s involvement positively impacted him, decided to join a virtual support group for caregivers.

“He now had a purpose and felt great about supporting others and receiving support,” she says of Stu. “I needed a safe place to share life as a caregiver and support others, too.”

She first took part in the east virtual support group for caregivers, until their move to Calgary, Alta., when she became a co-chair for the west virtual support group for caregivers.

“To try to talk to anyone outside the brain tumour family is hard,” Mary says, of finding community within the caregiver groups. “Also, there is no judgment on each other, and the compassion we provide each other is amazing.”

While meetings are about lending a listening ear and offering information, they’re also a way for caregivers to encourage each other through their journeys.

“The best advice I was given was to take care of me so that in return, I could care for my loved one,” Mary says, adding that for some caregivers, that looks like going for a walk, getting back into hobbies they once had, ensuring they’re eating well and getting enough sleep.

Mary’s incredible work as a caregiver, for not only her husband but for the community she’s generously supported with her time and experience, has earned her a 2024 Volunteer of Distinction Award. This award is given each year to volunteers who embody the spirit of volunteerism, which Mary certainly does.

As the theme of this year’s National Volunteer Week is Every Moment Matters, Mary was asked what it meant to her.

“It is so true,” Mary says. “From supporting a family member who has just heard their loved one has a brain tumour, to a loved one now in hospice. Also, to celebrating those who are survivors and the caregivers living life.”

Recognizing those moments, both good and bad, is part of the process—as is knowing help is out there.

“No one has to share, but everyone gets to share,” says Mary. “That is the beauty of the virtual group. You could be anywhere in Canada and receive support. Sometimes, all you need is to talk to somebody.”