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Cancer survivor finds room on her plate to give back

Volunteer-staff partnership crucial to her decision to volunteer

In 2012, Catherine Edmonds was a single mom working full-time and trying to finish her doctorate degree in education when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. 

She remembers vividly the people she met who cleared a path for her to get the treatment and support she needed. Those people armed her with support, knowledge, and resources that made her feel like a woman again. 

Today, Dr. Edmonds, superintendent of Bertie County Schools in North Carolina, spends her free time, what little of it she has, giving back to her community as an American Cancer Society volunteer. She invests her time so that others feel as supported as she did during her cancer journey.

"I benefitted from services at ACS and was able to connect with a research study that helped me continue to exercise while going through treatment," Dr. Edmonds remembers. "I wanted to help support others and give back to my community once I was back on my feet." 

A simple invitation to speak at her local Relay For Life, and a comment that participation had been down, sparked her interest to volunteer. "I knew I was positioned to help as a superintendent for a local school district," she says. "I got the schools back involved and networked with others to broaden the reach into my community."  That was about the time she met Dan Thorpe, executive director in the Southeast Region. Dan and Dr. Edmonds formed an instant bond. 

To describe their partnership, Dr. Edmonds said, "It is best to tell what our partnership is not. I always thought that ACS would have their agenda and tell the volunteer what to do." That is not the case in her relationship with Dan. "We are standing shoulder to shoulder talking about the needs of the community," she explains. "We decide what works for the community and everyone shoulders the responsibility." 

It helps that Dan and Dr. Edmonds have a true passion for their community and the work they do. "He doesn't say no, he says how can we get it done," says Dr. Edmonds.

She encourages others to think of ways they can balance their work and personal life to make time to give back and volunteer in their community. "Whatever you can give – time, money, connections – we can use whatever you have." 

Dr. Edmonds is honest about the time she has to give and that has helped her fulfill her passion to volunteer. "I have to be clear on what I can and can't do," she says. "I do my best to overlap my work life and my volunteer life, so I can fit everything I want to do on my plate." 

Dr. Edmonds recently joined her Area Board and is looking forward to finding more ways to help others in her community.

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