Profile: Lucie Sollazzo, Support Group Leader, London Ontario
Lucie Sollazzo has been the SjSC Support Group Leader in London since early 2010. For 11 years, she has been a powerful advocate for hundreds of Sjögren’s patients in Southwestern Ontario. She has worked hard to support fellow patients and increase their knowledge about Sjögren’s. The London Support Group has grown over the years from small intimate gatherings at Lucie’s home to large group meetings of up to 25 attendees with informative expert speakers. During the pandemic she embraced holding meetings via Zoom video conferencing which worked very well. To promote her support group, Lucie always had business cards to give to her doctors. She developed great relationships with them and they often spoke at her meetings. Her members always appreciated her “show and tell” of useful products, educational materials, and samples. Her favourite pieces of advice to her members: use warm compresses to treat your dry eyes, have a mini-humidifier by your side at all times, be assertive when it comes to getting the care you need (crying works!), and swish with coconut oil.
Lucie’s Sjögren’s story begins in the late 1990’s when she was a successful businesswoman operating a French language bookstore. She noticed she was experiencing serious episodes of brain fog, fatigue as well as painful dry eyes. She could no longer wear her contact lenses. She decided to downsize her business and run it out of her home but even that became too challenging with continued episodes of brain fog and dryness issues. She began a search for answers and a diagnosis. Coincidentally, she started to meet women both in her neighbourhood and during her travels who were dealing with similar symptoms who had a name for this strange condition which she was not familiar with. She finally spoke to her family doctor about her symptoms and within one week she had a tentative diagnosis of Sjögren’s.
Lucie’s neighbour who also had Sjögren’s told her about the Sjögren’s Society of Canada and suggested she attend the National Patient Conference which she did in 2009. A whole new world opened up for Lucie. She met many caring fellow patients and SjSC board members like Lee Durdon and Dr. Leslie Laing, who encouraged her to become a Support Group Leader in London. She was also referred to the Sjögren’s Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital for a full workup of tests where she was formally diagnosed with Sjögren’s.
A profile about Lucie’s work with the SjSC can not be told without talking about her husband Jerry. Jerry has been incredibly understanding, encouraging and helpful from the very start. He attends every support group meeting to assist Lucie and he was a member of the SjSC Board of Directors for six years. A few years ago, Lucie and Jerry organized a fundraiser and designed a t-shirt with a unique logo which they sold at events and conferences to raise money for the Society. The t-shirt asked a simple impactful question: “Ask Me about Sjögren’s”. She gives Jerry a great deal of credit for her involvement.
After 11 years as a Support Group Leader, Lucie has decided it’s time to retire from her leadership role. She says she is not going away (except to the cottage!) and does not plan to disappear. She enjoyed every minute of her years as a leader, and often says: “I received as much support from my members as what I gave them”. She feels that the social aspect of a support group, making friends and keeping in touch with each other, is especially important because many patients don’t have support and understanding at home. She says the work is gratifying but there is always more to be done to increase awareness and educate doctors.
In 2019, Lucie was presented with an Outstanding Volunteer Award for her “commitment and dedication to Sjögren’s patients and the Sjögren’s Society of Canada”, a fitting and well-deserved tribute for her years of service.
By Mary McNeil