Sister Terry Dalla: Volunteering at Wellspring
For over 14 years, Sister Terry Dalla CSJ has volunteered at Wellspring, a network of support centres for cancer patients. Wellspring offers programs to meet the emotional, spiritual, psychological and informational needs of people living with cancer. These programs are provided free of charge and with no need for referrals.
"Wellspring provides patients with a place to speak freely about their fears, anxieties and other emotions around living with cancer," says Sister Terry.
Patients learn of Wellspring from different medical practitioners, but even considering an initial visit can be frightening. Every patient who comes to Wellspring starts with meeting a volunteer like Sister Terry. "When a patient comes in," says Sister Terry, "I start with welcoming them and saying that I'm glad they've come and that I know how difficult this can be."
In a private meeting room, Sister Terry asks, "Can you share what has brought you to Wellspring at this time?" She listens to what the patient says, helping them express their fears, worries and questions.
At this stage, most patients are in a state of shock after learning of their cancer. "So many say they lived healthy lives and can't believe this is happening to them," says Sister Terry. Patients are filled with questions, but the questions are mostly emerging from two concerns.
"They're wondering how they're going to cope with living with cancer, "says Sister Terry, "and how it affects them and people around them."
Most cancer patients find these concerns difficult to share with others. There are many problems that only another cancer patient will understand, and this is where Wellspring's volunteers can help. "Every Wellspring volunteer is a cancer survivor," says Sister Terry. "Patients are told this before they come and it enables a patient to feel that I understand what they're experiencing."
This understanding creates a safe environment where they can voice the feelings they wouldn't feel comfortable sharing with friends and family.
As the patient tells their story, Sister Terry listens attentively. "I'm listening to what they say and what they don't say. Hearing them talk about their cancer, what they're feeling, what they're looking for."
All this tells her what programs Wellspring can offer for each person's specific needs. This might include therapeutic touch, reflection, light exercise, spirit-body-mind meditation or relaxation-and-visualization. Wellspring offers over 40 different programs free of charge thanks to donations from individuals, foundations and corporations.
Some of these programs are offered in terms of individual sessions and others are more extensive, such as an eight-week course of writing and reflection called The Healing Journey. And then there are the support groups.
When Sister Terry first went to Wellspring as a patient, it was her support group that made her want to return. "It was so affirming. I could see how every patient here was so grateful for Wellspring. And every time I was here, I wanted to come back and volunteer." She completed the volunteer training in 2001 and has been at Wellspring ever since.
Before Wellspring, Sister Terry was a hospital chaplain at St. Michael's Hospital and then St. Joseph's Health Centre. "I've been in health care all my life." Although she had roles in hospital admitting and administration, her passion was always in working with patients.
"It's been inspiring for me," says Sister Terry, "to see cancer patients at Wellspring and to see their hopes and spirits renewed by what Wellspring has to offer."