Imagine quitting your successful job in the US to travel the world with your Aussie husband, stopping in Wanaka for a season, falling in love and relocating here where you discover a much better work life balance, begin volunteering with a native plant nursery and enjoy an outdoor way of life…and then suddenly learning that you have breast cancer.
This is the scenario that Mary Jo (MJ) Muller faced, and unfortunately faced with just a small support network because family was overseas, she was not aware of all the available local resources and she thought being young she’d be able to power through. Looking back, she realizes that she was mentally in shock from the diagnosis and although some support resources were shared with her “all the information coming at you is like drinking from a fire hose and all you really hear is ‘you have cancer.’”
Upon completion of treatment, she was drawn to give back and the Relay for Life presented the perfect opportunity to get involved with the Cancer Society. MJ “got a team together, raised a heap of money, gave a speech at the Relay, met other folks there, and was introduced to a coffee group for Cancer Society clients, survivors and families” which she enthusiastically joined.
It was there that she met the team lead and was asked if she wanted to volunteer. By then she knew there were great people involved so quickly responded, “Why not? Let’s do it.”
MJ’s first role was providing supportive care visits, which she continues to enjoy doing today. Driving clients to appointments, stacking firewood, or simply being a companion are all ways this group of volunteers provides 1:1 support.
Given her deep empathy based on her own battle with cancer, MJ is acutely aware that “you can’t presume to know what anyone is going through on any given day as everyone’s experience is different. But there is an unspoken bond of just knowing there are bad days and better days.”
MJ knows personally that simple things and individual smiles throughout the day add up and matter. She finds “satisfaction in making someone’s uncomfortable day at least a little bit smoother or easier.”
Looking to give more, she had a turn heading up Wanaka Daffodil Day and then raised her hand for a different role. Now as the volunteer lead for Wanaka, she organizes volunteers to attend Cancer Society trainings, regularly matches new clients with supportive care volunteers based on specific needs, and visits with clients.
When asked for her advice to others considering volunteering, MJ gives a direct answer: “Do it. If you are in a position to give back, get involved in some capacity in some way.”
What if you don’t know how you would like to contribute? MJ has an answer for that too. “Go to Volunteer South. They have a fantastic matching service that allows you to consider what type of work, how many hours you want to be involved, and how to pair your passions with the many opportunities available. There is something out there for everyone.”
MJ is keen for others to know what the Cancer Society can do to help them along their journey, especially now that she knows what a caring team of volunteers are available. She urges those with cancer and their family members to reach out and ask for assistance.
Written by Susan Merriman for Volunteer South and The Cancer Society in December 2021- resharing for International Womens Day 2023