The New Year had started with intentions for a better and healthier year. So far, it was going well. I lived in the beautiful mountainous community of Grande Cache, AB and had easy access to trails for walking and running. I planned to run the Canadian Death Race –125 Km in 24 hours– as a soloist that year. I ran stages of the race on a team and finished half the race with my husband in previous years. But 2016 had different plans for me. At the end of January, during a self-exam, I felt a lump on my left breast. I examined my breasts regularly since my sister died of Breast Cancer in 2002. This lump felt different, so I made an appointment at the Grande Prairie hospital in late February. I received a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy all on the same day, and I knew as I drove two hours back to Grande Cache, that something was wrong.
A cancer diagnosis brings many appointments, many decisions, and lots of consulting with a huge medical team. There was surgery, recovery, chemotherapy, recovery, radiation, recovery – all along, the path was set for me. At each appointment, I was told exactly what to look for and what to do. I felt like I was given metaphorical ‘fighting sticks,’ tools to help me beat cancer. Sorrentino’s Compassion House was one of those fighting sticks. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to stay at the House with my husband while I finished the last part of my treatment plan. The comfort of the House goes beyond the bed, kitchen, living rooms, and exercise room. The women that you meet, they are the comfort that you feel while you stay there. Things are not quite as scary when you have a friend to walk with, and at the Compassion House, I met many friends. We supported each other through a scary time. The House allowed me to be around lots of people but also allowed me to retreat to my room if I needed space. The Compassion House staff and volunteers provided a listening ear, a tissue to dry tears, rides to the Cross-Cancer Institute, trips to the mall, and partners to walk with on the nearby trails. There was always someone around to support me.
Once I finished treatment, I finally had fewer appointments, and my prognosis was good. So why did I feel so lost? I realized that it was because nothing was laid out for me anymore – no appointments, treatment plans, or yoga classes. No volunteers to bring tea and make crafts. I felt like my fighting sticks had been taken away from me, and I felt alone even though I had a large family and friend support network. The post-treatment side of a cancer diagnosis was a new and different path, one I had not navigated before and one I had to figure out on my own.
Back in Grande Cache, it was almost November 2017, and I felt very much alone. My husband went back to work, my hair started to grow, and my first grandchild was stopping by each day for a visit. Even with all of these wonderful gifts in front of me, all I could think about was, “what’s next?” There were no support groups in Grande Cache, and I heard of someone else getting a cancer diagnosis everywhere I turned. With the support of the Grande Prairie Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Canadian Cancer Society, and my family, I travelled to Calgary in June 2017 to participate in a peer support weekend. The skills learned that weekend allowed me to start a peer support group in our little mountain community. Fast forward a couple of more years, and now the Compassion Network Ambassador through Sorrentino’s Compassion House helps me facilitate our peer support group. Support groups are especially needed after treatment when there is no longer a plan being laid out for you. My best piece of advice for others is to remember that NO ONE FIGHTS ALONE! This is felt when you stay at the Sorrentino’s, and now in our community of Grande Cache – thank you, Compassion House!