Every gift to McGill has a story, but not all begin joyfully. That was certainly the case for Jacques Balayla, MDCM’12, a recent graduate who donated $5,000 to establish a fund that will support the health and wellbeing of students in the Faculty of Medicine.
Dr. Balayla and his family came to Canada from Venezuela in 2002. Just six months after their arrival, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Witnessing my mother’s progression in her disease is what inspired me to study medicine,” he says.
His mother’s health quickly deteriorated and Balayla found himself juggling caregiving with his full-time studies. It was not an easy feat, but one made more manageable through the compassionate assistance of McGill administrators, who worked with him diligently to adjust his schedule.
On March 28, 2012, his mother passed away. A few weeks later, he graduated from medical school. “It was a very bittersweet day, as I really wished she had been there to witness that,” he recalls. “That day I knew I had to do something to honour her, and McGill was the perfect way to do that.”
Dr. Balayla made a gift to the Alma Mater Fund to establish the Juliette Benarroch Award in memory of his mother. The award will support one or more students who are facing personal life challenges that could affect their completion of the MDCM program. Valued at $1,000 a year, it provides support to students who are trying to balance their studies with caregiving duties. “It was created to alleviate some of the financial strains that inevitably come with that unanticipated role.”
The loss of his mother is still painful, but he says, “I am grateful that my mother’s legacy might live on through this gift. Perhaps her suffering might – in some way – help someone else.”
Two years after his own convocation, he shared his reflections about donning the white coat in a speech to the graduating class of 2014 at a white coat event. “Always remember, our coats may be short, like our knowledge as physicians-in-training, but it is white, like our untainted desire to heal,” he said. “May your white coats become just as stained, creased and torn as mine is so that you’re reminded every day of the honourable journey you’re embarking upon today.”