Lora Cantarutti, who volunteers at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre as a way of saying thanks for her family's experience there, says: "I try to treat people the way we as family members were treated. We always felt we mattered." (Photo: UHN)

For Lora Cantarutti, it's a way of saying thank you on a weekly basis.

Each Wednesday, Lora dons her burgundy UHN volunteer vest and spends a few hours in the Hematology North clinic at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. She greets patients, helping them register for their appointment, offering a smile or a cup of water, sometimes stories or a supportive ear.

National Volunteer Week
April 15-21, 2018

Everyone is invited to take some time to recognize the volunteers in UHN departments, clinics, units, waiting rooms and at information desks.

"I just know that sometimes the small things mean a lot," says Lora, who spent her share of time at the Princess Margaret even before she began volunteering in January 2017. Both Lora's father, who passed away in 1997, and her sister, who has been cancer-free for about seven years, were patients at the cancer centre. Another sister is undergoing treatment.

  • Watch a video about volunteering at UHN [Editor's Note: Link is no longer available]

"They were all treated very well by everyone here and I just wanted to give back," Lora says.

"I try to treat people the way we as family members were treated. We always felt we mattered."

In addition to supporting patients and their families, Lora says she also enjoys being of assistance to hard-working cancer centre staff, "by helping them out however I can."

Beverly Burgess and Homa Jafari, Patient Flow Coordinators in the Malignant Hematology Clinics, say Lora is an invaluable part of the care team.

She helps with patient intake, assisting with armbands and helping new patients complete various forms, including the electronic Distress Assessment and Response Tool (DART), which is a real-time review of well-being or symptoms to be discussed as needed with the clinical team. She also escorts patients into exam rooms and generally offers any assistance she can.

"She's very observant," Beverly says. "If someone comes in and they look unwell, she lets us know.

"Having her here is a huge help, especially when we're very busy. She takes away that extra pressure."

Homa says Lora develops connections with patients. Lora not only remembers the names of most of them, but even if she hasn't seen them in a few weeks she's able to follow up on conversations they previously had. Lora also shares personal stories from her family's cancer experience, which patients find helpful.

"She's very kind and approachable. She relates to patients," says Homa, noting that many patients make sure they find Lora to say goodbye every time they leave the clinic.

"The fact patients share stories with her shows how much of a bond they have developed with her."

Lora is one of more than 3,100 people aged 16 and older on volunteer resources teams across UHN's four hospitals. At seven sites, they provide patients, families, visitors and staff with assistance and services to help augment the effort of caring and busy professional staff. They must be willing to commit to a placement for at least six to 12 months and contribute from two to four hours once a week.

More details on qualifications and requirements can be found at how to become a UHN volunteer.

For her part, Lora says she gets great satisfaction out of her interaction with patients. With most, it's not a long conversation but rather a quick smile or a kind gesture that makes their day a little brighter.

"If I can do something, that for even just a moment puts a smile on someone’s face, that really means something," she says.

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