Recovering from Adversity: The Gwynne Family

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When Marcy Gwynne was five months pregnant, her husband Paul was diagnosed with cancer. During the next six years they fought through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries. On October 16, 2014, Paul passed away. The first person Marcy called after relatives was Jenni Thompson from YMCA Calgary. Marcy wanted her boys to stay involved with the Y.

Marcy, Paul, and their six-year-old twin boys Max and Alex started coming to the YMCA when the boys were two. Paul told Marcy, “I want to be here. This is a place for families.”

During Paul’s illness, YMCA staff volunteered to take care of the boys before and after their programs so their mom and dad could get to the hospital on time for treatments. After Paul passed away, YMCA staff volunteered to watch the boys again, this time to give Marcy a break and some alone time to grieve.  

Originally from Ontario, many of Marcy’s friends and family expected her to move “home” after Paul’s death. But through it all, she says, she’s never felt alone.

“We call this the YMCA family,” Marcy says. “I have so much support and community at the Y. There are people here who are helping me and my boys.”

Paul would wait in the YMCA lobby while his boys were in swimming lessons and sport classes. Marcy remembers how staff would check on him and how other members, parents and kids, became their friends. When there was concern that Paul’s treatments wouldn’t be covered by health insurance, other YMCA families offered to fundraise for them.

“We were chosen as a family in the Adopt-a-Family program twice,” Marcy says. And even though they are low-income because of Paul’s inability to work, they’ve never felt discriminated against.

“The people here have been so good to us.
If someday I can pay it forward to the Y, I will.
Right now, my way of paying it forward is to keep coming because the programs and opportunities are so wonderful for the boys.”

Max and Alex celebrated their sixth birthday at the YMCA in April 2015. The loss of their dad has been difficult beyond words. But their mom sees how being at the Y has helped them during their dad’s battle and through their time to grieve. They have been making friends and building skills, not just in basketball and swimming, but also through increased social skills, dedication, and confidence.

For Marcy, having her sons continue to participate in YMCA programs is an important part of her husband’s legacy. After attending family camp at Camp Chief Hector YMCA in 2014, Paul confided in his wife his dream that his sons would one day be camp counsellors there. She remembers him saying “We can afford to give them everything because of the YMCA.”


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