Sarah Gunderson: Money Matters Coordinator and Cancer Survivor
Some of you know me, my name is Sarah Gunderson, and I am proud to be a Money Matter’s coordinator at Wellspring Calgary. As a cancer survivor with recent experience, I feel I have a special role to play in helping others navigate the challenges of cancer. Today I’m going to share a bit of my personal story and hope it brings inspiration to those travelling the difficult path I know too well.
I am a small-town girl, raised on a farm west of Didsbury. I grew up surrounded by love, strong family roots, and Christian values. My brother and I have many memories of playing sports, helping with the community turkey dinners, and riding horses down the back roads as we brought the cows home from pasture each fall. Truly, I can’t think of a better place to grow up.
After high school, I pursued social work at Red Deer College and then completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work through the University of Calgary. As a newly certified social worker, I brought my skills back home, working in Didsbury and OIds for Child and Family Services for 14 years. I really enjoyed working with children and families near my rural roots – often I found that people just needed a helping hand to get the right supports in place and carry on.
I was very fortunate to make some lifelong friends and eventually I met and married my husband Rory. We went on to have three fun-loving kids and settled our little family on a farm near Water Valley where Rory grew up.
Winds of Change
The days zipped by in a happy flurry until one cold day in January 2020 when everything came to a frightening halt, and my life changed forever. At the age of 36, I felt a small lump under my arm and within a month I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer. This was a month before Covid hit, and soon after, hospitals were going into crisis mode, but despite the pandemic, I gratefully felt well cared for; the doctors in Olds and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre worked tirelessly to ensure the types of services I needed were available.
I had two surgeries to remove the cancer, followed by four months of chemotherapy, two months of radiation, and then two more surgeries followed.
As a mother with a young family, the stress was impossibly difficult. My world didn’t make sense – I felt like I had been run over by a freight train. The day they gave me my cancer ID card I felt disbelief and hopelessness. I was joining a club I didn’t want to belong to or have any association with.
Cancer can lead a person to a level of darkness not many people can understand unless they have been there. A life-threatening illness changes you – it shakes you to your very core. I spent sleepless nights wondering how long I might make it, wondering if I would see my children pursue their dreams, wondering if I would have the luxury of growing old with the people I love. I found myself succumbing to feelings of anguish and despair.
But despite this devastating obstacle before me, I knew I had the choice of how to respond. I didn’t choose cancer… that had already been decided, but what I did have was the power to choose how I would respond to this unwanted disease. Would I accept defeat and prepare for the worst, or would I somehow put my best foot forward and prepare for the fight of my life?
For me, faith has always been a big part of my life and this felt like an opportunity to put my faith into action. Even though I knew it would be a struggle, I made a choice to make the best of the situation and I was fortunate to have people like my family encouraging me every step of the way.
So, with faith close at hand, and a hopeful heart, I began my journey. I trudged through treatment after treatment amid the uncertainty of COVID, and all the while, there were good people in my corner cheering me on. I discovered unexpected blessings at every turn, including a whole community of people showing up on my doorstep with meals, cards, well wishes, and treats for the kids. It seems that people’s true colours really do light up in times of extreme difficulty. With this huge force of love and kindness to back me, I was determined to focus my attention on the positives and push cancer to the sidelines.
Today I am here, cancer free for a year and living remarkably well. Physically I appear the same as I once was, yet the scars of cancer run deep and I know I will never be the same. When those dark and heavy clouds creep in and cast doubt and fear of cancer returning, I turn my face to the blue sky and push on with hope and faith. My mantra is: I am healthy, I am healed, I am whole.
Wellspring Fills My Cup
With extraordinary new insights, and a deep well of strength I didn’t know I had, I felt called to find new meaning in my life, and perhaps help others who were facing the challenges I had faced.
That’s how I found my way to this job at Wellspring Calgary.
Wellspring is this incredible community of compassion and support and I am lucky and proud to be giving and receiving all the goodness that flourishes here. Truly, Wellspring is a Godsend for anyone facing cancer and their families.
In my job as a Money Matters coordinator I provide free one-on-one help with the employment, insurance and financial aspects of cancer. And believe me, I understand the added stress of work interruption and the unplanned expenses of cancer. It can be overwhelming. I love that I am able to give back and assist with navigating these challenges.
My favourite part about Wellspring is that it’s not just for those who live in Calgary, anyone living with cancer anywhere can join Wellspring and access the free programs and supports online from the comforts of their home. This is so important when you’ve had your world turned upside down.
Cancer is hard. It’s really hard. People need hope, and I want to do all I can to be a living example that there is life beyond cancer. There is light and love around every corner; you just have to keep going forward with hope in your step, and faith that all will be well.