Meg LeBlanc is a fighter.
Parkinson’s disease has left her with tremors, shaky hands and difficulty walking but she still has a big smile on her face and a sunny disposition.
Instead of feeling sorry for herself she spends her time helping others.
Every Wednesday morning, as she has for the last three years, LeBlanc volunteers her time manning the local Canadian Cancer Society office.
“I really like it,” she says. “I like being able to meet the people who come in here and being able to help them.”
LeBlanc says the office is a resource centre where she can hand out pamphlets to people or help those who have lost their hair to chemotherapy pick out a wig or a scarf.
The office is ran mostly by volunteers like LeBlanc who are vital to the society’s success. The biggest night for the volunteers is the Canadian Cancer Society’s annual Relay for Life – a chance to celebrate and remember those with cancer, those who have died from the disease and those who have overcome cancer. During the event, at least one member from each team must be on the track throughout the 12-hour time frame. This year’s event takes place June 1-2 at Phoenix school but volunteers are already needed. The Cancer Society is looking for community leaders with communication, delegation, networking or project management skills who can assist on the Leadership Committee. Part of the committee’s role is to brainstorm ideas to make this year’s event a success.
LeBlanc says Relay for Life is important because it helps raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society to put towards finding a cure for cancer. It also puts a positive spin on the devastating disease.
“Things like Relay for Life encourage you to fight if you have (cancer),” LeBlanc says. “And so many people do fight it and can get through it. With cancer they now have a good idea of what causes it and treatments are improving all the time. It’s not easy but it’s getting better. I admire the people who fight through it.”
LeBlanc is pretty admirable herself. She’s suffered with Parkinson’s for 25 years. She was diagnosed when she was just 41-years-old while living in Ontario. Ironically, she had been teaching a fitness class the day she found out she had the disease.
LeBlanc says unlike cancer, there is no way to overcome Parkinson’s. It’s a long-term, neurological disease caused by a loss of dopamine in the brain. Symptoms include tremors, stiff muscles, difficulty with balance and walking, and difficulty with fine movements.
LeBlanc was working as a medical technologist in Toronto before Parkinson’s forced her to retire. LeBlanc and her husband moved to Campbell River and shortly after she fell and broke her pelvis. LeBlanc wasn’t able to leave her house for nearly a year but when she was finally able to get out on her own she started to seek out volunteer opportunities. The Canadian Cancer Society stuck out because of its flexible hours and the connection her family has with cancer.
“I have a brother-in-law with prostate cancer and a sister-in-law with kidney cancer and possibly lung cancer, and a friend with breast cancer who’s had a double mastectomy,” says LeBlanc, who has been fortunate herself to have never had cancer.
Still, everyday is a struggle for LeBlanc who admits Parkinson’s is “a frustrating disease.” But always one to help, LeBlanc participated in several Parkinson’s study groups when she still lived in Ontario. As a memento she has a photo of her brain that, as a student of medicine, she finds “incredibly interesting” to analyze.
Despite her struggles, LeBlanc is ready for whatever the Canadian Cancer Society throws her way, particularly when it comes to Relay for Life.
“On the day, my husband and I put on our volunteer shirts and just wait until someone in desperation yells,” she says with a smile.
Anyone who would like to volunteer at Relay for Life or sign up for the Relay for Life leadership committee can call the Campbell River Canadian Cancer Society office at (250) 826-1955 or e-mail Anna Glenny at email@example.com