Faces in the Crowd – A Healing Hand

Posted on September 8, 2016 under Faces in the Crowd with no comments yet



“Every Canadian deserves equitable medical treatment and I am happy to have played a part in bringing quality cancer care to Nova Scotians.”

Meet Dr. Ron MacCormick.

Ron’s parents left Cape Breton during the war years, hoping to find greener pastures on the mainland. By his own admission, he wasn’t the best student in high school until he met with the school’s guidance counsellor at Dartmouth High. Sister Ann Smith recognized potential and encouraged Ron “to do the things you’re good at.” He gravitated towards math and the sciences. “Sister Smith was the most impactful person in my life at that time.”

In grade 12 he was a member of the Reach for the Top team, which competed for National honors.

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he enrolled at St. F. X. in 1971 with the encouragement of Merchant Bauer. He loved X and was inspired by noted chemistry professor, David Bunbury.  After two years he headed off to Dalhousie to attend medical school. His medical journey next took him to Winnipeg to do two years of internal medicine and surgery. During this time he did a two month stint in Belize.

In 1979 he did a locum in Neil’s Harbor and worked with Ken Murray, a physician for whom he has great admiration.

In 1980 he returned to Dal, where he met Dr. Ormille Hayne. “Ormille had the most impact on me than any other doctor.” It was at this time that he decided to try medical oncology, a fledgling field in medicine at the time. Ron was one of the first recipients of a Terry Fox Fellowship and headed off to the Princess Margaret in Toronto to pursue his specialty.

He met his future wife, Rhoda, after a cruise on the Mediterranean. On the ship he met Rhoda’s sister, and when he got back to Canada he looked her up and ended up marrying Rhoda! He took a hiatus from his studies to go to Lesotho with Rhoda to work with WUSC. Their first child was born there, and after two years it was back to the Princess Margaret.

Dr. MacCormick continued his studies in Canada and beyond its borders.  One of his more interesting (and peculiar!) fellowships occurred in Annecy, France, where he was asked to come over and “think” for a month.

The MacCormicks returned to Nova Scotia and Ron became the first medical oncologist in the province. After 5 years the travel bug re-emerged and they spent three years in Saudi Arabia.  In 1994 Ron spearheaded the project that became the Cape Breton Cancer Centre, which now employs more than 100 people. For many years Rhonda has been the coordinator of volunteers for the internationally acclaimed Celtic Colours International Festival.

Dr. MacCormick started treating an ever-increasing number of cancer patients from Antigonish, and in 1997 he began travelling there one day a week. On a particularly stormy day in 1999, after his wife gently suggested that he shouldn’t be on the road, he geared up a tele- oncology call with the folks in Antigonish; one of the first of its kind.

Cancer continues to be a perplexing disease even though Ron suggests that the biggest killer of humans is old age.  “Cancer has become a part of our fabric. Cancer cells don`t die. “

Far from being disillusioned with his line of work, Ron says that, oddly enough, a cancer diagnosis often brings out the very best in people. “Once people get over the initial shock they are very resilient. They want to tell their life story. They concentrate on living instead of focusing on dying.”

He is well respected by his peers. “ Ron blends extreme competence with deeply caring compassion,” said someone familiar with his work with cancer patients.

Ron practices what he preaches when it comes to a healthy, active lifestyle. He is an avid biker and hiker and spends as much time as possible in a canoe. He gets out very early in the morning and tries to paddle every month of the year. This time alone gives him time to relax.

Ron has been recognized on several occasions for the work he has done, including receipt of the prestigious R.M. Taylor award for his role in developing cancer care in rural Canada.

When Ron comes to Antigonish he stays at the Victorian Inn, a short walk to St. Martha’s Hospital. Very often his room is the one that has been occupied over the years by former Prime Ministers and distinguished Canadians Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and Paul Martin.  Dr. Ron MacCormick should feel right at home.

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