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Mr. Jim Mulcahy
Excellence in Patient Care (Volunteer)

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L-R Theresa Marie Underhill, Award Presenter and Chief Operating Officer, Cancer Care Nova Scotia, Jim Mulcahy 
He is a two-time cancer survivor, a caregiver to his wife who has a critical illness, a father to four children, grandfather to five, a teacher, an accomplished public speaker and an exceptional volunteer. Jim Mulcahy from Antigonish, Nova Scotia is also the recipient of the 2012 inaugural Excellence in Patient Care award for a volunteer.

“Critical illnesses, like cancer , have a way of challenging your sense of identity and alienating you from much of which gave you a sense of worth,” says Jim. “I thought volunteering might be a way for me help others with their cancer journey as well as benefit my own sense of well being.”

For eight years Jim has been drawing on his own cancer experiences to help ease the journey of others. He is a member on local and provincial committees and project teams that are developing policies and programs to support patient-centred care.

“The first time I was sick I was overwhelmed emotionally by the diagnosis and treatments,” he says. “Though I found the physical challenges of the treatments difficult, it was the lack of effective psycho-social care that I found most troubling.”

Jim says his second diagnosis was even more stressful because by then he was caring for his wife who also has a critical illness. “The treatments the second time around were physically very draining,” he says, “but, still the significant weakness in my treatment was lack of attention to my psycho-social-spiritual needs. I wanted to help change that for others.”

Jim’s contribution on many Cancer Care Nova Scotia committees is making a significant difference. Through his involvement on the Patient Engagement Project he is sharing his perspective on the patient experience to help CCNS evaluate the effectiveness of the organization’s patient and family engagement programs and determine the changes necessary to enhance and improve them. In his role as a member of St. Martha’s Regional Distress Screening Implementation Team, he is helping to ensure that the practical and psycho-social issues patients face are routinely addressed. Jim has participated in many focus groups and round table meetings to share his experience with the goal of improving patient care for others. He has been a guest speaker for a number of conferences related to quality patient-centred care.

“The most moving, rewarding and enjoyable moments of my volunteering activities are the conversations I have with patients and staff at the oncology/palliative care clinic at St. Martha’s, says Jim. The staff is fabulous – warm, personal, and professional to the core. They make me feel welcome and valued as a volunteer.”

“It is so humbling to sit with patients and families as they wait for treatment or consultations. I’ve had a number of very rich and moving experiences as I listened respectfully to their stories. Often, the best I can do is to sit in silence with them and hope that my presence offers them some comfort.”

Charlene Porter, Nurse Manager at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, says there is no doubt but that Jim’s presence alone offers comfort to patients and helps motivate staff. “Jim reminds us not to lose sight of the person with the disease and to use simple touches to reassure patients,” she says. “Jim continually gives of himself to improve the lives of others despite his own challenges as a caregiver and cancer survivor.”

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