Too Many Losses

Later on, an older gentleman who initially didn’t seem open to sharing his deepest fears, kept asking me to call him and not forget him.  So I realize that for some, just knowing someone is there is enough.  After a few months, he had a heart attack, and never recovered from an already weak physique.  He sadly passed away only months following the attack.

Conversations with many of the patients or caregivers stretched for months and years.  Sadly, most patients have passed, except one that I kept in touch with for a number of years – a French gentleman I was paired up with over a decade following his total gastrectomy.

I have discontinued contact with some patients who were doing very well after several years, in order to make room for the newly diagnosed – the ones needing more support and requiring more of my time.  Regrettably, a previous patient took a turn for the worse, and is no longer with us.  Due to the language barrier, I was in contact with her daughter mostly.  She had put in a call to Hope & Cope to let me know, so I called her to see how she was doing.


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Be well!




As a peer mentor, I only speak to patients on the telephone, even though I’ve met a few of them.  I was not able to put myself in a hospital environment unnecessarily, and risk catching any of the bacteria that was circulating in the hospitals, like C-Difficile – a serious intestinal condition, which was active in many hospitals for several years.  But there are volunteers trained to attend to patients within the hospital as well.

My body was still weak, and even a cold would not be good for me.  Various bacteria have proven to affect me during lengthy hospital visits.  One morning spent at the hospital with my husband and his mother, both having a scheduled colonoscopy, left me with an infection requiring antibiotics.  I remember being in the tiny, crowded waiting room, and one of the patients sitting in a wheelchair close by had a terrible cough.  I knew I was doomed.

Since I am a very shy woman, peer mentoring is my best option.  I feel that my best exchanges have been on the telephone.  I love being face to face with people, but I can be more open when I’m not.


Welcome back!  Hope you all enjoyed the break.


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!