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Cancer group honors Sister Mary Ryan

The month of April is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month and Sister Mary Ryan knows quite a bit about this.

In May 1998, Sister Mary was diagnosed with oral cancer, only two years after she had professed perpetual vows with the Sisters of Providence.

The Danvers, Massachusetts, native went through progressive treatment, but Sister Mary always felt a sense of the unknown surrounding her cancer.

“There were no support groups and very little literature on it,” Sister Mary explained.

Searching for Support

SPOHNC officials also provided Sister Mary with a medallion. On this side, “Outstanding Volunteer” is inscribed. The other side is inscribed with “Service to SPOHNC.

But in 1999, she found support through the Support FOR Persons with Oral, Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC). She joined the group and began to feel more comfort.

“I had felt very alone, not knowing anyone who had this rare cancer,” Sister Mary admitted. “But in 1999, a SPOHNC group formed where I lived and I joined it. There were others in the group ‘who had walked in my shoes.’”

After moving to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2005, Sister Mary discovered that the closest SPOHNC group was located in Indianapolis. She was encouraged to begin a local group and facilitated the Terre Haute group for 10 years.

“We met at the Hux Cancer Center in Terre Haute,” Sister Mary said. “Due to illness, I stepped down from facilitating our group meetings in 2019.”

It’s a Ministry

But the organization did not forget Sister Mary and her contributions. Facing the Coronavirus pandemic, Sister Mary received a package from the SPOHNC’s main office in Long Island, New York. Inside the package, she found a letter from the organization thanking her for her work as a facilitator.

SPOHNC officials also honored her with a Willow Tree statue of an angel with “Angel of Hope” inscribed on it.

“I never expected to be honored for something I enjoyed doing, helping others like myself to connect with others who are experiencing the same issues,” Sister Mary explained. “It is a ministry to me.”

Support and Encouragement

During her time facilitating the meetings, Sister Mary said they were “very informal.”

“Each person in the group could share an update on their health, ask questions, and tell the group something that they read about oral, head and neck cancer,” Sister Mary continued. “Often, I shared about new medicines and treatments, and clinical trials. There are many long-term side effects with this cancer.

Sister Mary Ryan.

“A member might ask if anyone else has had the same experience. Always, the group tried to support and encourage each other. We also had many guest speakers who shared on some aspect of this cancer. I learned from the people in the group. I thought that I would be helping them. But instead, we were helping one another.”

Sister Mary said the Coronavirus pandemic put a stop to the group’s meetings, in addition to a decline in the number of members.

“Hopefully, sometime in the near future, it will start to meet again,” Sister Mary explained. “There is a need for such a group in the Wabash Valley.”

SPOHNC’s website says it is “dedicated to raising awareness and meeting the needs of oral and head and neck cancer patients through its resources and publications.” There are more than 125 chapters in the United States.

For more information, click here.

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

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  1. Avatar Jeanne Kenny. S.P. on April 28, 2021 at 6:16 am

    Congratulations Mary, what a lovely honor!

    • Avatar Paula Modaff SP on April 28, 2021 at 1:03 pm

      Mary, I am so happy for you. Your quiet, peaceful determination is being recognized and appreciated.

  2. Avatar Debbie Victor on April 28, 2021 at 6:52 am

    Sister Mary Ryan, you are such a beautiful soul and an inspiration to so many! I miss you and our chats! Sending love.

  3. Avatar Rosaline Secrest, PA on April 28, 2021 at 8:15 am

    Dear Sister Mary Ryan, you have dealt with a most difficult illness with strength and courage. Some of what you shared with me regarding your health when we were both volunteering made me have great respect for you. Congratulations on your award.

    • Avatar Donna Butler on April 28, 2021 at 9:21 am

      Mary, Congratulations on a well deserved award. You have used this terrible illness to reach out to others, to be Providence in their lives. In doing this, blessings have become mutual, giving and receiving

  4. Avatar S. Denise Wilkinson on April 28, 2021 at 8:17 am

    A wonderful ministry, Mary, and a well deserved recognition.

  5. Avatar Connie SP on April 28, 2021 at 9:19 am

    So glad others have acknowledged your sacred, quiet ministry Mary. You are an inspiration to me.

  6. Avatar PAULA DAMIANO, SP on April 28, 2021 at 10:23 am

    How wonderful! You’ve made an impact on the lives of so many.

  7. Avatar Mary Montgomery on April 28, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Congratulations on a well-deserved honor, Mary! Thank you for touching the lives of many in the Wabash Valley and beyond with your ministry of sharing, leading, compassion, research, building a community of care for this most important group you are a part of. I hope that some of you will be able to gather together soon.

  8. Avatar Sister Mary Tomlinson on April 28, 2021 at 11:49 am

    Congratulations, Mary. For a wonderful telling of your story and for the recognition. You have certainly braved all your health issues. Praying for you.

  9. Avatar Ann Stauffer on April 28, 2021 at 3:20 pm

    Hi Mary
    I often have wondered about you and am so delighted to “catch up” with you !!! Mary, I give you so much credit in how you have dealt with your challenges !!! As the saying goes – – When life gives you lemons, make lemonade !!! But you, Mary, have gone on to make LEMON MERINGUE PIE !!!!! You truly are an inspiration!!!!!! God bless,
    Ann Stauffer

  10. Avatar Susan Paweski, SP on April 28, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    Mary, I am so taken with your designation as an “Angel of Hope.” Isn’t that what we are called to be as share the charism of Providence? You have brought hope and healing to your neighbors. Congratulations and may the support group begin to meet again.
    Peace & prayers!

  11. Avatar Marsha A. Speth on April 29, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    Congratulations, Mary! We are all so awed and proud of you!

  12. Avatar Margaret Pabst on April 29, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    What a gift you are ! You are someone who is sharing so much of herself and the SP’s value you and your courage, I m sure. Thank you for your wonderful example of faith and commitment.

    Margaret Pabst

  13. Avatar Cathy Campbell, SP on April 30, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Thanks for being a sign of Providence to so many others, Mary. I feel very blessed to have you for a friend. God bless you for all you are and offer to others. Peace and blessings, Cathy C. SP

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