Spotlight on two Cancer Information Specialists: Sandra and Shigufa

With nearly half of Canadians expected to hear the words “you have cancer” in their lifetime, we know cancer affects us all in some way. No experience is the same, but if you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, it can be a deeply personal experience that brings up a range of emotions. During this time, finding a listening ear, useful resources and reliable information to understand the cancer journey can be a source of comfort.

Through our Cancer Information Helpline, we provide a toll-free national, telephone and live chat service for cancer patients, caregivers, loved ones, and healthcare professionals. The compassionate team members who work on the frontlines of our helpline take time to listen to people affected by cancer, answer cancer-related questions and share useful resources.

Meet Sandra and Shigufa – two of our expert staff members on the other end of your calls, emails and messages. Learn how their personal experiences motivate them to support people facing cancer across the country.

Sandra’s story: someone who’s been there

Helping people has always been close to Sandra’s heart. As a nurse for 28 years, she worked on the healthcare frontlines to treat and care for children, as well as palliative and home-care patients. But it was the early impact of cancer on her family that shaped who she is today.

Before Sandra was born, her sister was diagnosed with childhood leukemia. While there were no treatments available for her sister’s cancer type at this time, a clinical trial provided hope. It was able to help extend her life by 18 months, but also weakened her immune system and sadly, she died from an infection. Unfortunately, blood cancer continued to have a hereditary impact on Sandra’s family, and in the early 1990s she lost her father to lymphoma. And as Sandra was starting to look to her future with her young family, she was impacted by blood cancer again – this time it was her own Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis.

“It’s not easy to be diagnosed with cancer,” shares Sandra. “The looming question on my mind was, ‘My family members didn’t survive so why would I?’”

We understand Sandra’s concern – she's not alone. It’s normal to have questions and fears about survival. At the Canadian Cancer Society, we’re committed to funding research that will change the future of cancer, so we can give hope to people like her. And we’re making progress every day. According to the Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019 report, overall cancer survival increased from 55% in the early 1990s to 63% today. The report also shows the biggest increases in cancer survival since the early 1990s have been for blood cancers – leukemia (43% to 59%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (49% to 68%) and multiple myeloma (27% to 44%) – with progress largely the result of research that’s helped improve treatment. Today, more people with blood cancer are being treated with greater success – including Sandra.

“Cancer research gave me a chance to survive that my sister and father didn’t have.”

Now a survivor, experienced caregiver and nurse, Sandra draws from her background to reach Canadians every day.

“I can appreciate what others are going through because I’ve been there myself. I feel honoured to be able to pass on support and resources to people affected by cancer.”

A woman wearing a headset working at a desk and smiling at the camera

Shigufa's story: a young woman with a big heart

Shigufa joined our helpline in February 2020 because she wanted to make a difference in her work.

“I've always wanted a rewarding job where you can help people,” shares Shigufa. “And that's exactly what I'm doing right now as a specialist on our Cancer Information Helpline."

But it wasn’t until August 2020, when her grandmother was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer just one month before passing away, that Shigufa understood the meaning and importance of her role.

"When I answer calls, I have a better understanding of the cancer journey and the emotions that someone may feel because of my own experience.”

As a helpline specialist, Shigufa supports people affected by cancer and shares information daily so they can feel informed about their disease. But her role doesn't end there – Shigufa is a pillar on which people affected by cancer can lean on during hard times.

"I will never forget the call I received from a woman who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I took the time to listen to her and focus on her needs. What moved me most about this call was how transformative it was for her well-being. She was in tears at the beginning of the call – desperate to get help – but by the end she was much more serene, calm and very grateful for the help she was given. I felt so much satisfaction in helping someone who was in great need of support.”

A smiling woman outside at nighttime

For information or support in English, French and more than 150 languages through the help of an interpreter, turn to our credible and compassionate Cancer Information Helpline specialists at 1-888-939-3333 or through live chat on our website (Monday to Friday, 9 AM – 6 PM EST).

Helpline staff like Sandra and Shigufa provide compassionate support to people affected by cancer when they need it most.

By supporting this vital service you’re making a positive difference in the lives of people impacted by cancer, their families, friends, and caregivers.