What happens when you get a diagnosis of cancer and suddenly your whole world is turned upside down? You're faced with your own mortality and until now there's been no easy way to find people who are travelling a similar journey on the Sunshine Coast.
Ashley Doyle was diagnosed with cancer in January last year at the age of 28. Overnight she went from being a carefree young woman with a fulfilling graphic arts career to a life of major surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. And while she had family and friends for support, Doyle longed to share her experience with someone "who had been there."
"I found during chemo especially, I really found it would have helped to talk to somebody who had gone through it all. Around that time when you're in it, you don't really have a lot of energy for the effort to contact someone. I couldn't emotionally or physically handle it. Now I'm going through a huge identity crisis and I need to talk about that - the shock, the treatment and the surviving survivorship," she said.
Last August, Doyle contacted the Community Resource Centre (CRC) to find out if any support group existed on the Coast. And although there had been one run out of the CRC several years ago, the funding had run out.
Christabelle Kux-Kardos, the information and referral coordinator at the Centre, quickly realized a need for support when she received three requests for information on such a group during a one-week period including Doyle's.
Fast forward a couple of months, and in a serendipitous twist of fate, there was a request for proposal for a cancer support group from the Ruby Slipper Fund in Coast Reporter.
The fund was established in 2009 as a tribute to Patsy Rothenbush, a well-known and well-loved Coast woman who lost her battle with cancer at age 51.
Brenda Rowe, a friend of Rothenbush who helped start the fund, said that Rothenbush was able to pay for treatments not covered by the medical plan. And because of her friends' and family's support, she was able to have palliative care on her terms. She was acutely aware that not all cancer patients could do the same.
For instance, Rothenbush rued that there was no free counselling on the Coast for kids dealing with a family member's cancer.
"The fund was established so people living on the Coast will receive the care they want," Rowe said.
The fund helps finance respite care for families burnt out from caring for loved ones with cancer and for palliative care (excluding medical marijuana - the cost is prohibitive) and counselling.
Many times, Rowe said, families are reluctant to ask for help, but she urges them to reconsider. Her friend wanted to relieve other's suffering and the success of the fund means there's money to do so. If you have questions, contact Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first event the Ruby Slipper Fund threw, the Shoe and Bag Auction, made $3,000. Last year it made $16,000. The next auction is scheduled for April 6. Contact Rowe at the above email address or Sandy Lanskail at the Daily Roast in Sechelt to learn more.
"You never have to ask anyone twice [to get involved]," Rowe shared.
A coordinator will be on hand for the initial meeting of the group on Feb. 16 at the CRC from 2 to 4 p.m. RSVP is imperative to 604-885-4088 or email email@example.com. This meeting is open to everyone dealing with cancer from Egmont to Port Mellon. At the inaugural meeting people are welcome to bring their support person. A survey will be conducted to determine people's needs and the format of successive meetings will be decided then. It's intended to run the meetings on the first and third Saturday of the month at 2 p.m.
For Anne Titcomb, a director at CRC and herself a cancer survivor who couch-surfed for six weeks a number of years ago when she was having radiation treatments, the best part of the new cancer support group is the source of the monetary support.
"It's a funder on the Coast funding something for the Coast. Feels like it's meant to be," she said.