A local support group in Conception Bay North is Living Proof that cancer survivors need this kind of support. “There’s things that we don’t tell our husbands, or our friends, because no one really understands what’s really inside,” says one member.
Ten years ago, Elaine Keeping was diagnosed with breast cancer in Halifax, but she rejected offers to join a support group.
One year ago, she met a friend and fellow cancer survivor in church and they — with other friends — started Living Proof, a group that meets every month in the Clarke’s Beach town hall.
Keeping says her friend, Ferne Pike, told her she wanted to start a breast-cancer support group in the area.
“So between some of the friends that I knew who were survivors of breast cancer, and a couple of hers, we got together. We went for training out in Grand Falls to be facilitators,” she said. The training was done by a national breast-cancer support charity called Willow. “We came back and we started our breast cancer support group.”
Keeping said the first meeting saw 14 women show up, with a few more coming the following meeting.
Attendance varies from meeting to meeting based on members’ time commitments, like any social group. Unlike many other social groups, however, sometimes members aren’t able to attend because of chemotherapy treatments.
Keeping retired three years ago to Bareneed, where she said it seemed like “every second person you talked to” had cancer, and meeting Pike convinced her that there was a great need to provide a place for women to talk about a problem they often struggle with alone.
“There’s things that we don’t tell our husbands, or our friends, because no one really understands what’s really inside.”
Keeping said at the meetings — which are confidential — members gather in a circle and light a candle.
“Once that candle is lit, and while that candle is lit, nothing goes outside that circle,” she said. Topics range from dying to sexuality to chemo drugs and mastectomies but, Keeping added, it’s not all grim and serious stuff.
“It’s a time of laughter. It’s not just telling our stories. And you don’t have to tell your story, you can sit there and not say a damn word. Just listen.”
She says she thinks a lot of women are afraid to look for support. “When I got breast cancer, they called me four times to a support group. I wouldn’t go,” she said.“When we started this support group, and the first night we had it, it was ... how do you explain it? It was like the first time that I sat with a group of women who knew where I was coming from.”
Keeping added that it was almost like experiencing breast cancer again for the first time.
“Even after 10 years of breast cancer, the group has been helping me. Because there was things that I never talked about, right? Just pushed it aside and went on with my life,” she said.
Keeping said any woman with breast cancer who can make it to a meeting is welcome to attend. “Come and listen. You don’t have to talk. Have a cup of tea with us after.”
Denise pike/ The Compass ROUGH RIDE - Motorists driving along the main road in Spaniard’s Bay, Saturday Oct. 17, had to watch out for debris from the sea during one of this years many fall rainstorms.