Cancer support group to start up this fall
Back left: Brenda Swanson and Ashley Meadahl. Front left: Dorothy Morton and Louise Jones. Leah Simonot/Camrose Canadian
Dorothy Morton was able to laugh at the lymphedema in her arm for the first time after a five-year-old boy referred to the side-effect of a cancer treatment as “big muscles.”
Morton has many stories stemming from her journey with breast cancer. Some are funny, some are not so funny, and others have become funny with time.
She is sharing a lot more of them since she began meeting with a group of local business women to kickstart Circle of Hope, a workshop to support women with life after cancer. The first will be held at the Ramada Hotel on Sept. 22.
As a cancer survivor, she hopes to bring a little lightheartedness to someone else’s journey.
“Just hoping that you can help people is, I think, the biggest thing for me,” said Morton. “They maybe can't laugh today but down the road maybe they can to help them through the tough times.”
Morton was diagnosed in 2001 with an aggressive breast cancer that, unlike many cases, was not caused by unusual levels of estrogen. Her chemotherapy treatments would make her very ill, and she would have to spend the seven to 10 days after one the hospital. Chemotherapy is intended to kill cancer cells, but it does not differentiate between these cells and red and while blood cells. Morton’s white cells would be attacked, landing her in isolation with a terrible fever while waiting for them to recover so she could continue fighting.
Morton met one other person with the same cancer as her while going through treatments, but they did not share her symptoms. Even so, she found it emotionally freeing to talking with people in a similar situation.
One such opportunity was on a weekend breast cancer retreat, and another was the lodge where she stayed while receiving radiation treatments in Kingston, two hours away from her rural Ontario home.
“You're hearing their stories and you're feeling that you're not alone,” she said.
“I actually started to heal a bit better inside emotionally because I was around other people who were going through what I went through. You don't say to your husband or your children, ‘I'm scared I'm dying,’ every time you get sick because you don't want them to worry. So you hold that inside. Does that really do any good to you?
If you're around other cancer patients you can say, ‘This treatment really scares me,’ or ‘I'm not feeling well and I'm really concerned.’”
The workshop will provide this opportunity, as well as demonstrations from a makeup artist on drawing eyebrows after losing facial hair with chemotherapy and demonstration on wigs and head scarves. Crafty Crafters and the Knitted Knockers program will demonstrate how knitted bra fillings can be used after surgery, and a nurse or nutritionist will discuss changing diets for bodies adjusting to treatments. Attendees will also receive swag bags donated by local businesses.
Circle of Hope co-founder Ashley Meadahl was in Grade 9 when her mom, Morton, was diagnosed. She coped by researching online to learn more about what her mom was going through and starting a support group in her high school for anybody that had family going through the disease. When she moved to Camrose, she started a fashion show to raise money for cancer.
“Everything was just kind of in honour of my mom because I knew how difficult it was for our family and I can only imagine how hard it was for other families going through the same thing,” said Meadahl. “If we would have had what there is today, and even just what we're developing, I think that would have made a huge difference.
“And I think anybody going through it today, there's definitely a lot more resources and opportunities to learn more about it, which is fantastic and its great to see it continue growing.”
Planning for Circle of Hope took when local business woman Brenda Swanson, an RN and semi-permanent makeup artist with Ageless Beauty Semi-Permanent Makeup Clinic, approached Meadahl, who owns Premier Event Management, with the idea of starting something in the community to help cancer patients. Meadahl and Swanson then teamed up with Louise Jones, Rural Alberta Business Centre Camrose, and Morton, a mortgage broker with Invis.
The idea grew as they asked more people to get involved. Circle of Hope is currently comprised of 12 local participating, presenting and sponsoring businesses, and is looking for others to donate items for attendee swag bags.
Meadahl said support for the workshop has been phenomenal and hopes they will help a variety of people.
“Maybe they've been diagnosed, they just had a surgery, they're just going through treatment or maybe it's four or five or ten years down the road…but they're still trying to figure things out. We're going to provide quite a bit of options.”
For Morton, it is amazing to see the workshop start up in a community not so different from the one where she fought her cancer.
“Here in Camrose, you're experiencing pretty much what I experienced in Ontario with having to go to Edmonton. It's an hour away, you're dealing with traffic when you're sick.”
“We care about people and cancer is not going anywhere anytime soon by the looks of it…they'll know there's a support there for them and that they can see that will help them as well so that's huge.”
Circle of Hope will begin by running a couple times a year, with registration online and through the Camrose Community Cancer Centre, and will hopefully grow as per demand.