News from Illinois CancerCare

From the Heart – A Profile in Kindness

“You really see the human strength and spirit,” Joanne Woiwode says of the time she spends volunteering with patients at Illinois CancerCare almost every Thursday.

An 11-year breast cancer survivor and 5-year Illinois CancerCare volunteer, Joanne says she sees a lot of “hope, faith and love” when meeting the needs of patients and their caregivers in the pod where she typically spends her time. (A pod is an area where a group of patients receive chemotherapy or other infusion treatment.)

During the three to three and a half hours she visits Illinois CancerCare each week, Joanne tends to the needs of the patients in her pod. Every 20 to 30 minutes, she swings by the pod with a full basket of doctor-approved snacks, offers coffee and lemonade, provides them with warm blankets or serves as a listening ear. Just as often as she cares for the patients, she’s also there to support their caregivers – the spouses, adult children, friends and other loved ones.

Caring for the caregiver

Joanne knows first-hand the importance of taking time for those who are providing support to the patient. She explains that her treatment and recovery was traumatic for her husband, Terry. Many caregivers feel helpless watching their loved one deal with cancer and its side effects, so Joanne is very aware of their needs.

When talking with patients or their support system, she always tries to be sensitive to their personalities and their current mood. While some people prefer to chat to distract themselves, others prefer to rest quietly during their treatments. For Joanne, she didn’t crave that social interaction when she was a patient – she just wanted to sleep when getting her chemotherapy.


A legacy of love and hope

A former special education teacher, Joanne pours her heart into everything she does. When she fully retired about five years ago, she knew she wanted to use her time to create a legacy for others – and she felt like she had something to offer patients and caregivers.

Because a large number of people in B Pod are breast cancer patients, Joanne can relate to a lot of what they’re going through and the concerns their family has. Although she’s often drained after a shift of meeting the needs of a room full of patients, she knows that every single person deserves to have her full support and energy while receiving their treatment. As a result, Joanne has developed warm relationships with many of these patients and their family. She likes to think that, as a former patient, her ability to serve them is a reminder that this, too, shall pass.


Words of wisdom

But Joanne is far from the only volunteer. Illinois CancerCare has an army of people who want to help in any way they can. For Joanne, she serves because she wants to “pay it forward” after the wonderful care she received during her treatment. Her husband, Terry, also gives back by assembling informational packets for patients, usually about 100 each week.

At Illinois CancerCare, we have volunteers that fill a wide range of roles and may have one that’s just right for you. In addition to caring for patients getting infusions like Joanne does and putting packets together like Terry does, other needs include labeling baggies for prescriptions, maintaining candy jars, helping in the library and happily greeting patients as they enter the building. For more information on volunteering, you complete our online volunteer form or contact Jodi McDuffee, Volunteer Coordinator, at

So, what advice would Joanne give to men and women interested in serving at ILCC?

  • Work with the ILCC volunteer coordinator to find an opportunity that fits your skills and passions. If you’re not comfortable visiting with patients, there are plenty of behind-the-scenes tasks that are critical to supporting our overall culture. This could include making lemonade and coffee, stuffing envelopes or other activities.
  • Ask yourself if you have something to offer that would benefit others. Although it seems like this would be a logical first step, it’s important to find out what volunteer opportunities are available, rather than deselecting yourself without knowing what the options could be.
  • Don’t offer medical advice to patients, but it’s certainly fine to share your own personal experiences. One tip Joanne shared was that she and her husband would often go out for lunch right after chemo because she usually had a burst of energy at that time. She had learned how to work around treatment to maintain a sense of normalcy for both of them.

The patients have some advice to share about volunteers, also. During her most recent shift, one gentleman told the ILCC staff, “You guys need to keep Joanne. She’s good one!”

We think she’s awesome, too. Thanks for all you do, Joanne!