Friday, July 1, 2022

The Real-Life Story Behind That Cancer Society Ad Which Probably Made You Cry

Over the past few weeks, you may have seen this ad, portraying a Cancer Society volunteer’s journey with a patient. It’s an important service that has been running for over 30 years around New Zealand and the Cancer Society has been inundated with phone calls ever since the ad started running, with people wanting to help out. Friday 28 August is Daffodil Day, and we wanted to highlight the beauty of this community work. Every week volunteer drivers rack up thousands of kilometres picking up cancer patients and taking them to treatment. For some Aucklanders, the car that picks them up is branded with the Warriors rugby league logo, and the woman behind the wheel is Warriors captain, and Young NZer of the Year, Georgia Hale.

Intellectual disabilities display game. Vodafone Warriors v Canberra Raiders. NRL Rugby League. Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand. Friday 2 August 2019. © Copyright photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.Photosport.nz

As well as being a sporting superstar, Georgia is also the Community Co-Ordinator for the Warriors, helping the teams do important mahi out in the community. At the beginning of the year Georgia’s colleague, who has a family member going through cancer, ended up seeing the opportunity to become a volunteer driver for the Cancer Society.

“I was thinking of good ways we could still use our staff and our brand to do some positive things in the community, even with everything that’s going on around us,” Georgia says.

And that’s how a bunch of staff at NZ Warriors ended up becoming volunteer drivers, taking cancer patients to and from their appointments throughout 2020 – a year that has thrown a spanner in the works for everyone, not least people who were already having to go through the emotional roller-coaster of cancer treatment.

Being able to provide a constant role of support for people has been so rewarding for Georgia, she hopes she’ll still be a volunteer driver well into her future. She’d be in good company – there are people who have been doing this important role for decades, whether they started off as a staff member or as a cancer patient themselves. Of course, because of the restrictions of the various lockdowns, as a younger driver, Georgia was able to remain an essential worker where many of the older drivers had to be more careful. However, Covid-19 is no match for the sheer enthusiasm Georgia has for her new role. She has always been community minded – the 24-year-old was named Young New Zealander of the Year in February and through her dual roles, says she has the best job in the world. Volunteering for the Cancer Society is just another string to her bow.

“My first lady that I drove was so lovely. I mentioned it was my first drive and she shared her experiences so far with me. Every drive since then has been the same – everyone has been so lovely and the patients are so appreciative of your time,” Georgia says. It must help, you imagine, that Georgia is about the warmest, chattiest person you can imagine.

“Sometimes I can talk the leg off a chair,” she laughs. “It’s been really nice to hear a range of stories and to sit back and listen. We can be talking about the weather, what’s on the radio, Covid-19, Jacinda, the patient’s children, their work… whatever it is, it’s been really nice to find common ground and for me to go away having learned something.”

On average, she’s driving three times a week – sometimes a repeat patient, and they just “pick up where we left off,” Georgia says. Some of the conversations can be a bit overwhelming but it’s part of the territory. “I very much let them lead the conversation and it ends up where it ends up; hopefully I’m in an empathetic position where I can chat to the patient and be there for them in that moment. I’ve really appreciated my patients opening up to me. There has been some laughter and there have been some softer spots as well.”

It’s taken some of the ‘otherness’ or stigma away from cancer, Georgia says. Before she started driving, she might not have been sure of what to say or how to have a tricky conversation, upon learning someone was fighting cancer. Now, she knows that if both parties are keen, the conversations that can come out of it can be really meaningful. “I’ve learned a lot about the whole cancer process and treatment, what patients are going through and also what their families are going through.”

“You get so much strength of the patients that you’re driving cos they’re battling it every day and they’re so positive and upbeat, they see the brightness in everything.”

As a Warriors player, Georgia is well aware of what the human body is capable of. Now, she says, she’s getting extra appreciation for it. “I’ll chat to the patients and say ‘what have you got on for the rest of the day?’ and they’ll say ‘I really want to make myself lunch,’ or ‘I’m going to aim to hang the washing out.’ It’s really admirable. I find so much strength in what they do, when I put my rugby league hat on and think about what I put my body through. We’re both doing the same thing – we’re setting up our bodies for goals; they’re just different goals for different people.”

Meeting the patients and the other drivers has been an introduction to an amazing community that Georgia feels thrilled to be a part of. In a year where so many of us have been re-learning what our values and purpose are, she says it’s a great place to be a part of. “If someone is looking for something new to do, or a different purpose to have, or a way to give back, it’s just so rewarding.”

For the first time in 30 years, Daffodil Day isn’t able to run in Auckland due to Level 3 Lockdown. Cancer doesn’t stop for COVID. Donate $24 to help a Cancer patient get to treatment at daffodilday.org.nz

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