National Post for St. Columba Parishioner

An article by the Catholic Voice
Feb 3, 2012 10:00 AM ET

The Catholic Voice, online edition

By Carrie McClish, Staff writer

Cynthia LeBlanc knew very little about cancer when she became a volunteer with the American Cancer Society more than 24 years ago. That changed years later when cancer became personal.

Her mother had barely recovered from her second mastectomy when her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer — quickly transforming her mother from patient to primary caregiver, LeBlanc recalled. Both eventually died of cancer. She also noted that five of her mother’s eight brothers and sisters also died from the disease. “As a caregiver I have seen the impact that cancer can have on families,” said LeBlanc, a longtime member at Oakland’s St. Columba Parish.

Those experiences as well as two decades of service have also informed and strengthened LeBlanc’s continued commitment to the American Cancer Society. This year, the longtime volunteer and retired educator continues that commitment as the new chair of the National Board of Directors of the American Cancer Society.

Elected and installed as board chair last month in Atlanta, LeBlanc is the first African American woman to serve in this position. She told The Voice that she is honored and humbled to take on this role. “My goal was never to be chair of the National Board,” she said, it is to help ACS’s efforts “to end cancer.”

The National Board is made up of 11 officers, 24 directors and eight directors at large and its responsibilities include setting policy, establishing long-term goals and monitoring the general operations of the organization. 

Originally founded in 1913 as the American Society for the Control of Cancer, the focus of The American Cancer Society is about saving lives by, in their own words, “helping people stay well, helping people get well, by finding cures and by fighting back.”

“Right now, we save 350 people a day and the hope is to one day save 1,000 people a day,” said LeBlanc. “We are the official sponsor of birthdays,” referring to the American Cancer Society’s More Birthdays movement, dedicated to creating a world with less cancer and more birthdays.

ACS is working toward that goal of more birthdays partly by funding researchers, educating communities on how to stay healthy, organizing fundraisers and awareness campaigns and helping pass laws that defeat cancer. Much of the work is accomplished with the help of more than 3 million volunteers.

LeBlanc traces her energy and appetite for service to her parents and to her home parish. Born and raised in Berkeley, LeBlanc noted that her parents were married at St. Columba Church in 1946 and were deeply involved in the church during the late 1940s and early 1950s. 

They also made sure that their only child received a proper education. LeBlanc was graduated from St. Columba Elementary School and Presentation High School in Berkeley, and continued her studies at Holy Names College. She received her teaching credential from the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated with her master’s degree from San Francisco State University and her doctoral degree from the University of San Francisco. She spent more than 30 years as an administrator in several school districts in California. 

Inspired and influenced by her parents as well as her Catholic school teachers, LeBlanc is actively involved at St. Columba. She has been a member of the choir and has been involved in the parish’s “health cabinet,” which has helped provide vital information throughout the community. 

As an ACS volunteer LeBlanc served in various capacities at the community, division and national levels. She has served on the Society’s California Board of Directors since 1994, and as its chair from 2004-2005.

As national board chair, LeBlanc hopes to increase the organization’s focus on engaging the youth as volunteers and help boosting the society’s presence in diverse communities. “The American Cancer Society is there for them,” she said.