By Guy Djandji

United in their desire to make lasting contributions to cancer patients through their association with Hope & Cope, Rick Simoneau, Frank Pitman and Earl Pinchuk are three exceptional volunteers. To know them is to appreciate the richness of our organization and the impact that each and every volunteer can have on people coping with cancer.

In 1991, when Rick Simoneau was diagnosed with cancer as a young adult, he had trouble finding resources to help him through this trying time. Four years later, he joined Hope & Cope as a support group facilitator. Eventually, his volunteering took another turn with the creation of the Bros Club – a unique support group that brings together young men between the ages of 18 to 39 who lived or are living with cancer.

Established in 2016, the Bros Club meets monthly, offering its members the opportunity to socialize in a friendly, relaxed, unstructured atmosphere centred around sporting and cultural activities, from kayaking to yoga to museum exhibits.

As Rick explains, men and women experience cancer differently, both in terms of the illness itself and how they talk about it. The Bros Club provides an original forum where young men can express their needs and fears in an atmosphere of openness, trust and respect.

The soul of the group is Rick. He fosters a climate of supportive listening by putting members of the group at ease and gently encouraging them to open up about their respective situations.  “Our mission is to be a force for good as we support young men on their path to learning and wellness,” notes Rick. ”Listening and empathy are essential.”

Much like Rick and many other volunteers, Frank Pitman is a cancer survivor. Diagnosed with colorectal cancer, he underwent surgery in 2007. During this challenging period, he realized that there was a lack of support for this type of cancer. “Often, people are not diagnosed early enough, mostly due to a lack of information. I felt compelled to do my part to change this, ” recalls Frank.

Eventually, in 2011, Frank joined Hope & Cope as a peer mentor, offering one-on-one phone support to colorectal cancer patients. As he explains, “By listening to patients and sharing my experience, I help reduce the anxiety and the fear of the unknown that often accompany a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Listening and providing information are essential, in my opinion. ”

Although the pandemic has dramatically affected volunteering, Frank is surprised at how rapidly people have adapted to the new virtual reality. “Technology has allowed people to participate from near and far,” he observes. “It’s not a barrier at all. My role remains the same and I believe that even when in-person services resume, there will still be a need for virtual meetings.”

Regardless of the method, Frank is enthusiastic about the role he plays as a peer mentor in accompanying patients on their healing journey. Through active listening, encouraging patients, giving them information and sharing the wisdom of his lived experience, Frank improves their ability to cope with colorectal cancer.

A serious collector with a passion for art, Earl Pinchuk found a unique way to volunteer for Hope & Cope. Convinced that art contributes greatly to physical and mental healing, in 2002, Earl and his husband, Gary Blair, established the Art for Healing Foundation. “Our mission is to transform the drab walls of hospitals and other healthcare settings into warm, inviting spaces.” To achieve this mission, he set about convincing artists and art collectors to donate their original works to the Foundation.

In 2017, in conjunction with the Wellness Centre’s 10th Anniversary, Earl presented his idea for a special project – a spectacular collection of masterpieces by noted Canadian artists such as Alex Katz, David Hockney, Goodridge Roberts, Alfred Pellan, Philip Surrey and David Sorensen.

Earl proudly dedicated this collection to the memory of his mother, Miriam Bidner Pinchuk, who died of cancer in 2016 and whose photo is displayed at the Centre. In addition to being one of Hope & Cope’s longstanding donors, Miriam was a friend of our Founder, Sheila Kussner.

“Art is a tonic for the soul,” insists Earl.  “I enjoy sharing my passion with people who can benefit from art the most, from the patients themselves to the healthcare teams. It’s my way of making a small, positive difference in the world.”

Clearly, the contributions of Rick, Frank and Earl are exceptional. Their stories illustrate that while volunteering can take diverse forms, the goal is the same – accompanying our neighbours, families and friends on the road to health and wellness.