"I always thought that this disease was bigger than me, and if I could make some difference, I would."
Mary Beaucage was already a passionate volunteer before joining the Can-SOLVE CKD Network.
As the recipient of a kidney transplant, she was sharing and using her lived experience to increase transplantation rates through the Nipissing Gift of Life Association, among many other volunteer efforts. In a stroke of luck for Can-SOLVE CKD, Beaucage became part of the network in 2016 and has contributed to many different Can-SOLVE CKD committees and projects since then. Her exemplary leadership within the network has resulted in her receiving the 2021 Barbara Ann LeGay Award for Patient-Oriented Research.
“The Barbara Ann LeGay Award for Patient-Oriented Research celebrates patient partner leaders in our Can-SOLVE CKD Network,” explains Mila Tang, a member of the Can-SOLVE CKD Operations Team who coordinated the award nominations this year. “The award also serves to commemorate Barb, an extraordinary person, blind at birth and who dealt with many medical illnesses including chronic kidney disease, but lived a full life. She worked hard for positive change in her community.”
Beaucage shares many of the same attributes as Barb, as well as the same passion for positive change. Beaucage was on dialysis for two years before receiving her transplant. “I saw people in my community coming and going when I was on dialysis,” she says. “I always thought that this disease was bigger than me, and if I could make some difference, I would.”
The scope of Can-SOLVE CKD committees and projects that Beaucage has been involved with over the years is vast and diverse. She is a member of the Knowledge User/Knowledge Translation Committee and the Research Operations Committee, and co-chair of the Patient Governance Circle. As a Nipissing First Nation woman, she also provides valuable insight and co-leadership within the Indigenous Peoples’ Engagement and Research Council (IPERC).
Through IPERC, Beaucage has taken on several important projects aimed at fostering Indigenous cultural competency in health care, including the development of the Wabishki Bizhiko Skaanj learning pathway and the Supporting Each Other’s Journey land acknowledgment webinar series that is set to launch this summer. But it’s not just IPERC’s projects that she is proud of. “Over the years, I’ve seen IPERC go from something that people are curious about to a group that people are looking to for advice, or support and feedback,” she says.
While Beaucage acknowledges that a shift towards greater cultural competency in health care and research won’t happen overnight, it has been rewarding to see more Indigenous ways of knowing being woven into the Can-SOLVE CKD culture. “Everything takes time, right? There is still so much more to do, but when you have an open willingness to make that change, and a way to ensure that change happens, it will happen,” she says.
Over the years, Beaucage has also presented at various conferences on behalf of the network, and worked hard to advance initiatives by the KU/KT committee. She says being comfortable talking in front of audiences has complemented this work well, and she loves being able to share Can-SOLVE CKD accomplishments with others outside of the network.
Beaucage emphasizes that winning the Barb LeGay Award means a lot to her, especially since she knew Barb personally. “Barb was a real spitfire, she was pretty kickass. She didn’t let anything stop her.”
The panel members who voted for this year’s winner see many similar qualities in Beaucage. Cynthia MacDonald is a member of the Operations Team who nominated Beaucage. “Mary exemplifies leadership and teamwork in all that she does. She is a role model to so many people (me included),” MacDonald wrote in her nomination form. “She is so deserving of this award and really puts her heart and soul in all that she participates in.”
Tang echoes similar sentiments. “The leadership, passion, patience, resilience, and gentleness that Mary brings to each meeting was undeniable and should be recognized and celebrated. Just like Barb, she continues to push the envelope to make healthcare better for all. She has made deep impressions on the people around her… Congratulations to Mary!”