Twenty two years ago, AT&T executive Wanda Diak was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. “It was a time in my life that I felt settled, for lack of a better description – (I was in) a good place that included enjoying life, family, my career, hobbies and leisure time.” Cancer changed all of that, bringing the fear, confusion and fright of chemotherapy and surgery.
Following treatment, she returned to work. Not long after her return, she saw a notice that a small organization called ChemoCare was looking for a loaned executive. That notice was her opportunity to fulfill the promise she’d made herself in the chemo chair: to provide help to others if she was fortunate enough to have a positive outcome.
She joined the ChemoCare team as Patient Services Director, combining extraordinary compassion and a focus on measurable quality. It soon became evident that she was more than an ordinary volunteer. What was supposed to be a two-year contract soon became a second career.
Wanda put her professional experience in quality control and engineering to good use. Her time at CHN has been marked by a focus on process improvement and measurement. Under her leadership, that loosely organized group of dedicated volunteers has become a goal-driven, patient-focused organization with more than 400 trained Support Volunteers. They’ve faced more than 80 types of cancer and speak 15 languages.
Working with our volunteers, clients, oncology professionals, donors and trustees, she’s forged partnerships across the nation and developed innovative programs like TACT (Talking About Clinical Trials). Under her leadership, we’ve facilitated more than 33,000 matches, connecting patients, caregivers and hope. With her calm demeanor and focus on creating replicable processes, she’s transformed that grassroots group of volunteers into the hope-creating juggernaut we are today.
As a manager, she’s embraced the concept of “leaning in” for many years – hiring and promoting women to key organizational positions and providing a flexible work environment long before it was popular. “Her compassion, quiet dignity and warmth have made her the perfect ambassador to the outside world,” said Diane Bongiorno, CHN Support Volunteer and previous employee. “She’s an absolute joy to know as a colleague, a survivor and as a friend.”
She’s never let her leadership role stop her from making a personal difference – connecting with 272 patients in more than 600 conversations. The impact of those conversations has been far-reaching.
“Wanda is a genuinely good and decent person,” said Chaya Gil, who was matched with Wanda when she faced her diagnosis. “I have never met a person like her. She is one hundred percent decent in the most incredible way I’ve ever experienced. I know many good people. I gravitate toward good people. I have many good friends. But Wanda is really special. She’s above the cut. Her goodness is key here. It’s genuine caring and compassion.”
Sarah Miretti Cassidy is the Director of Marketing & Outreach for Cancer Hope Network. Contact her at 908.879.4039 ex 20 or scassidy (at) cancerhopenetwork.org.