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
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.
“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.
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