Everything happens for a reason…

My friend (and GSK US colleague) Christie Murphy, said this to me when I told her I had been accepted to the Pulse Program and that I was matched to work at the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute.  You see, about 3 years ago, Christie and I were getting ready to travel to Ghana to complete our Pulse assignments together.  However, I didn’t end up participating in Pulse that year.   I’m not sure I completely believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that things tend to work out for the best.   I like the way Steve Jobs said it in his famous commencement address:  

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.  So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

In this first post for my Pulse Volunteer blog, I would like to take a moment to share why I am participating in the Pulse Program and explore the “dots” that have led me to my assignment here at the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute (CCSRI).

There were many reasons why I first applied to Pulse.  I wanted an opportunity to do something to give back in a unique way, try something completely different, and learn from being outside my comfort zone. Pulse offers full-time 3 or 6-month assignments where participants can embed sustainable change over longer-term projects.  During the assignment volunteers have the support of the Pulse Team and a “Pulse Village” of fellow volunteers all over the world.  We also have an opportunity to work with a  Pulse Coach and an assigned GSK Senior Mentor. It is truly a unique way to learn, help others and bring fresh energy and perspective back to GSK.  When I applied to the program in 2012 and was assigned to an organization in Ghana I knew it would be a life-changing experience.

However, about one month before Christie and I were to leave for Africa, my life did change.  My twin-sister, Shannon, who lives in Charleston, SC with her husband and four (yes four!) young children called and gave me the news:  She had breast cancer.  It was shocking.  She was only 32 and her fourth child was just a few months old.

So, Christie went to Ghana alone, and I went to Charleston to support my sister through her treatments and help with the kids.

Shannon and I at her first chemotherapy appointment. All smiles - Sister-strong!
Shannon and I at her first chemotherapy appointment. All smiles – Sister-strong!
Shannon and her children: Lula, Vera, Penny and Elias.
Shannon and her children: Lula, Vera, Penny and Elias.

Looking back now, there are so many dots I can connect:  I was disappointed that I didn’t get to go to Ghana as a Pulse volunteer, but I did get to spend amazing quality time with my nieces and nephew.  My then boyfriend, Jeff, traveled down to Charleston with me to help support my family.  It really made me realize he was a special person and the right “one” for me….we are now married and just celebrated our first anniversary in July.  About a year after my sister’s diagnosis, Jeff’s sister, Meagan, was diagnosed with the same type of breast cancer…unbelievable.  Shannon was able to be such a wonderful source of information and hope for Meagan and they can support each other in a way that no one else really can.

We were lucky, both Meagan’s and Shannon’s cancers were diagnosed early enough, and the prognosis was good.  As someone who spent four years working in Clinical Research, I remember feeling so grateful for all the doctors and volunteers who gave their time to develop effective treatments for breast cancer.  Sometimes I thought about it as I sat with my sister during her chemotherapy…the hours, months, years, millions and millions of dollars in funding that went into studying and optimizing the regimes – that was why the doctors knew how to treat this type of cancer.

When my family was healthy again I decide to reapply to Pulse in 2015.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this year was the first year that the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute (CCSRI) had a volunteer position in the program.   The CCSRI funded about $40 million in cancer research last year.  This research will  lead to more effective and safer treatments for breast and many other types of cancer.  I am so grateful to be accepted to the Pulse program and work at CCSRI for the next 6 months!

My journey to this Pulse assignment was not as I expected but I hope you now understand why I feel like it all happened the way it was supposed to.   My reasons for applying to Pulse have not changed and I am even more connected to them now. In a way I feel as though I am giving back to the many physicians and scientists who study cancer and all those volunteers who participate in the clinical trials.

The Mission of the Canadian Cancer Society is to eradicate cancer and enhance the quality of life of people living with and beyond cancer.  I am honoured to be a part of that Mission for the next 6 months.

Thanks for reading!

Please feel free to leave comments and questions!


  1. Thank you for sharing your Pulse story. I am deeply touched as I too am a breast cancer survivor and grateful for the research being done:)

  2. As Christie’s PULSE “buddy”, I remember hearing from her about how you had to drop out of the 2012 program at the last minute. I am so glad to hear how you got to this next stage in your PULSE story. I look forward to many more blog posts from you.

  3. amazing story, so happy that your “sisters” are on the road to recovery. I too am working with women here with Cancer, Breast being the largest Cancer here in Ethiopia. Unfortuantly it is such a different story as it is not caught early and treatment is limited.
    Keep up the good work

  4. I got goosebumps reading this…Glad that your sister and sister in law are doing well.
    Wishing you the best for your assignment, and I hope the future dots fall in to place as you go…

  5. A very moving story Robyn, thanks for sharing it. Too many people are impacted by this horrible disease. I am hopeful that your contributions as well as other colleagues in the Pulse program may be one day find a cure. Thanks to GSK and all the Pulse volunteers for making a difference!

  6. Oh Robyn, way to make me cry! I can remember even when you and your family were struggling through your sister’s diagnosis and recovery, that you were such a great support to me. I do not think I would have made it through the first 2 weeks in Ghana without you. I am so proud of you and your family and that you were able to fit PULSE into your development, just two years later. Connecting the dots is such a perfect way to describe it…. I would have never connected the dots back then, but it has all fell into place… for both of us! You are amazing and I can’t wait to hear more about your assignment with CCSRI. Please reach out if you need help or support on this end!

  7. Fate has a funny way of making things happen. Thanks for sharing a remarkable story. I look forward to hearing more about your placement.

  8. Robyn, thanks for sharing your personal journey with us and I’m so glad that it had a happy ending. We are very privileged to have you with us the Canadian Cancer Society and working alongside us on the delivery of our mission!

  9. What an incredible story, Robyn. Wow do those dots ever connect. This time at CCSRI will be so meaningful to you. I teared up reading this and am so thankful to all those behind the scenes, and those on the front lines, working on cancer treatment.

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