One year ago, four women who had each experienced the trauma of being diagnosed with and fighting against cancer joined forces to establish a women’s cancer support group, with the title of “Sharing the Journey”.
Today, that group is marking its first anniversary, under the guidance of five coordinators. Tanis VanDeSype has joined with friends Sharon Werstuik, Vickie Betker, Tammie Morrison and Maria Siourounis as they help women in their efforts to deal with their cancer, in whatever stage they are at in their journey by providing a safe and confidential place where women can share about their fears and experiences.
The “Sharing the Journey” group meets on the second Wednesday of every month at the Weyburn Public Library, downstairs in one of the program rooms, starting at 6:30 p.m. The group first began after the original four coordinators took training through the Willows Breast Cancer Support Group in Regina, and started holding the meetings once a month to address the need in Weyburn for such an organization.
“We’ve learned a lot in the last year; we don’t necessarily do things the way we did at the beginning,” said Betker, noting the group is for women who are newly-diagnosed with cancer, those who are still fighting the disease or those who have succeeded and are moving on with their lives.
“We have a lot of people who rotate in and out of the group, and those who are undergoing chemo treatment currently,” said Betker.
“The whole object is supporting one another,” said Werstuik.
The group began as a support group for women, and it remains thus, with no similar group for men organized yet. Werstuik noted not even Regina has one yet, and the closest men’s support group was started in Yorkton for patients of prostate cancer.
“Sharing the Journey” gives women who have cancer the chance to talk to other women who are going through the same experiences they are, added Morrison.
“There are different things that people go through; everybody’s experience is different,” said Werstuik, but there are commonalities as well, where women can relate to what others are going through.
The group doesn’t provide medical information or expertise as such, pointed out Betker, “but we do have information that we can give them, and we know the local contacts of doctors who can help them.”
At one year old, the group is still trying to let all women cancer patients know they’re here for them; they’ve left pamphlets and posters in many locations, including at the library and in doctors’ offices, but it seems there are still many women dealing with cancer who don’t know this resource is there to help them through their journey.
Medical professionals “are familiar with our group, so they let people know. We’re also looking at addressing getting more information out to more people,” said Werstuik.
“It’s fully confidential. What is said at the meeting stays at the meeting. If someone doesn’t want to share, they don’t have to; they can just listen if they’d like,” said Betker.
Werstuik agreed, pointing out that anyone can share about the challenges they’re facing, because “it’s group support.”
Betker recalled an instance where a young woman was just diagnosed with cancer, and sat next to a woman who had had the same type, and was able to tell her about what worked and what didn’t as she worked her way through the fight.
“There’s validity in sharing your experiences,” added Van-DeSype.
“It means a lot coming from that group,” said Betker.
For Siourounis, there was another important aspect to meeting with the group.
“For me, I found a family outside of my family. I don’t have to spell out everything I’m talking about, because they know,” she said.
Morrison noted that knowing the women are meeting there once a month, she can keep her experiences or problems until then, to share with her friends at the support group.
“We laugh too. It’s so important to be able to laugh about things too,” said Siourounis.
“We have some tears at our meetings, but we have a lot of laughter too,” agreed Morrison.
Some education sessions were tried over the past year, but it was felt for now that the group’s strength is to be there as a support group for women with cancer.
“We re-evaluated the first year, really to be there as a support. With education, there might be some, but from the time we first put the group together, we’re seeing our ideals change to what they are now. Right now, we are a support group,” said Werstuik.
“We are pretty happy with how the first year has gone,” said Betker. “We’d like to get the word out more that we’re here.”