Not Just “How Can I Help You”

So I dove into my role as peer mentor for stomach cancer.  Survivors were few, and no other volunteers of the sort were on staff.  As soon as a patient or caregiver requested assistance, details known about the patient’s diagnosis were provided.  At the time the patient or family requests our support, it is already urgent, so it was up to me to contact them immediately and regularly.

In every one of my cases, the relationship was positive.  Since the patient or caregiver approached Hope & Cope for help, we never imposed our services.  The foundation also offers wellness classes, events, and a place like home for patients to relax in a stress-and-hospital-free environment.  A home next to the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal was acquired and renovated, providing a convenient location to accommodate various free classes and activities.  All of its services are also available to patients who are treated at other hospitals.

Early on, there was a patient who had expressed to me that she would refuse treatment, and after one month and a half of conversations, I could no longer reach her.  Through Hope & Cope, I was able to reach her in hospital.  Following only a couple of brief exchanges, the patient died days later.

Another gentleman, who I was in contact with for over three and a half years, looked forward to our phone calls, but after a second death sentence, felt I could no longer help him.  He felt I didn’t understand how it was to receive such news a second time.  Respectfully, I gave him his space, but after a few days, he contacted Hope & Cope so that I would communicate with him again.  Unfortunately, he too passed sometime after.

I mentored a lovely woman who I spoke to for just over a year, and when she was in palliative care, she really wanted to meet me.  I did visit her at the hospital, and then again at her funeral with her family.


Thank you all for being supportive in my journey.  I wish you great health and happiness. 

Note that I will not be posting next Tuesday, but hope you’ll return on March 13 for more excerpts from my memoir.  


I Can Be Selfish Too

It is soothing to know I am helping these families in some small way.  When you know the remainder of your life is brief, you become a different person.  Only one who’s been there can understand that particular fear, and this may cause a withdrawal from society.

Being gravely ill affects all those around us, so I sometimes stay in contact with a family member.  Everyone reacts in their own way, and that can vary from denial to anger.

The one selfish reason for volunteering – it helps me too.  Sharing the emotions that surround cancer is necessary.  It isn’t healthy to bury the burden.  So I cannot go on without thanking all the patients and families I’ve had the privilege of speaking with over the years.  I am so grateful that you have provided me with a sense of security in my own journey.  Thank you also for taking the opportunity to seek help, especially when the outcome is grim.  You are important and you deserve all the assistance that is available.  You must not go through it alone.

Hoping & Coping

Aside from my aunt, who passed away when I was in my early twenties, I had never been close to another person who had cancer.  Would I be encouraging or helpful enough to patients or their families?  Where do I start?  How do I tell a person to be hopeful when they’ve been diagnosed with a deadly disease?  Is encouragement really what they need?

My personal experience proved to me what a great necessity there is to offer support to other cancer patients.  From the ongoing training sessions and guidelines provided by Hope & Cope, and following my initial interactions with patients, my passion became obvious.

I learned that helping cancer patients is more about sharing our experience, listening, and just being available.  Most patients and caregivers are scared to death about the future, the suffering, and the loss.  The communication provides connection, hope, and someone to lean on.

There were periods when I had more than five patients at a time, so I kept notes of each conversation.  I wouldn’t want to forget what stage they were at, the developments of their treatments and tests, and especially not mix up the stories.  Soon the personal connections made it easy to understand their concerns, keep up with where they were in treatment, and help determine the frequency I should be calling them.

As patients seeking emotional support during a crisis like cancer, we expect acknowledgment of our fears and our suffering, and not to receive judgment.  We also need to know you will be there when we want to share our thoughts about coping and learning how to live with the consequences of cancer.  Feeling isolated diminishes as we find confidence in sharing our deepest, but common, emotions about death.

Keeping records is important, so I do update the files occasionally.  Details of major issues and developments – most ending with death – are noted.  If there were family members I was also in touch with, I would send a sympathy card.


What do you need from those around you in times of crises?


Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone… show some love this week – you may want to do it everyday after that!

Thank you for reading!


Thank You For Letting Me Help You

In February of 2006, ten months after my treatments, I called Hope & Cope to express my urge to volunteer.  The Survivorship Program Coordinator told me it was normal protocol to wait one year, following the completion of our treatments, before volunteering.  I imagine the reason for that is to assure your mental, emotional, and physical capacity, before you can offer strength to others.

She emailed a profile form to complete with personal details, diagnosis, and treatment information.  An application went further into my experience with cancer, requesting details about how I coped and what I can offer others.  We also spoke about my interest in volunteering and what capacity I would offer.  Peer mentoring, telephone communication with patients or family members, would make it easier for me to provide more of my time.  She seemed to like what she heard, and read from the forms I submitted, so she decided I was ready.  I was so happy to be accepted, and excited to get started, even though I wasn’t sure if I would do well.


Do you volunteer in any capacity?