Beloved Well­wood, our liv­ing, car­ing stitch in time

Non­profit fa­cil­ity turn­ing 20 cel­e­brates 20,000 blan­kets crafted with love

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JEFF MA­HONEY jma­honey@thes­pec.com 905-526-3306

Well­wood is cel­e­brat­ing a birth­day to­day — it is 20,000 blan­kets old. And chain-strong.

When Well­wood, turn­ing 20, was born in 1997, a gap got filled; a gap many didn’t know ex­isted un­til it was filled; such a dif­fer­ence it has made.

Hamil­ton, with Well­wood’s ar­rival, fi­nally had a com­mu­ni­ty­based, non­profit fa­cil­ity that, ac­cord­ing to its lit­er­a­ture, pro­vides in­for­ma­tion, pro­grams and “peer sup­port” to those with can­cer and, be­yond them, loved ones, care­givers and health-care providers.

That’s Well­wood. Peer sup­port? What an un­der­state­ment. It’s a blan­ket, an ear to lis­ten, a prac­ti­cal hand to guide fam­i­lies through a some­times con­fus­ing sys­tem. It’s a boat home.

Let’s start with the blan­kets, one among many pro­grams, in­clud­ing med­i­ta­tion, cre­ative ex­pres­sion, yoga, chil­dren’s groups for youth liv­ing with can­cer in the house­hold.

Soon af­ter Barb Hart­nett was di­ag­nosed with can­cer 17 years ago (she was told she had at most five years), she learned from her daugh­ter that she was go­ing to be a grand­mother.

The can­cer news pushed her to­ward Well­wood — and to start knit­ting again.

Her knit­ting got oth­ers knit­ting, the afghans and blan­kets go­ing to can­cer pa­tients (peo­ple of­ten get cold go­ing through chemo). Knit­ting groups formed.

Last month, Well­wood’s

20,000th blan­ket was com­pleted.

Barb, who died only last year, coun­selled those who came to Well­wood — like her, with in­cur­able can­cers. She would, in the words of Jane Ge­orge, pick their hope up off the floor. She knew there is al­ways liv­ing still to do.

When I think of Well­wood now, I think of the knit­ting. And I think of Jane Ge­orge, Well­wood’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, who told me about Barb. She tells me about Well­wood’s he­roes be­cause they’re amaz­ing and also, I sus­pect, to de­flect at­ten­tion from her­self.

You should know, though, that Jane was Well­wood’s first (and so far only) ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

She got the job be­cause, in 1997, she jokes, “they made me an of­fer I couldn’t refuse. Less money. No pen­sion. No ben­e­fits and no job se­cu­rity.”

But, oh, the re­wards. To help pi­o­neer a whole new fron­tier.

Be­fore Well­wood ex­isted, there was noth­ing quite like it here. That’s some­thing McMaster can­cer spe­cial­ist Dr. Greg O’Con­nell felt very em­phat­i­cally when, at 38, he was him­self di­ag­nosed in 1989.

He and his wife, Mau­reen O’Con­nor, a nurse, un­der­took to cre­ate a bet­ter sys­tem, more pa­tient/fam­i­ly­fo­cused, holis­ti­cally in­te­grated with other med­i­cal and sup­port ser­vices, nondu­pli­cat­ing and keyed to emo­tional, psy­cho­log­i­cal and spir­i­tual needs.

They knew that if the sys­tem was hard enough for them to ne­go­ti­ate, imag­ine those with fewer re­sources or English as a sec­ond lan­guage?

Well­wood of­fi­cially opened on May 27, 1997. Dr. O’Con­nell, though he sur­vived only a few months be­yond, did live to see it open.

Jane’s mother, Gwen, did not. She died of can­cer ear­lier in 1997. That ex­pe­ri­ence, say­ing good­bye to her mother, helped make the prospect of Well­wood pow­er­fully and per­son­ally mean­ing­ful to Jane.

When I think of Well­wood, I think of the Ge­orges. And I think of my friend Randy Steele, of CHCH’s Steele Town, lost in 2009.

Jane loved the Stee­les and helped them im­mea­sur­ably as did oth­ers at Well­wood. The feel­ing was mu­tual.

I think of his daugh­ter, Randi, in 2013, then nine years old, at the ded­i­ca­tion of Well­wood’s chil­dren’s room, named af­ter the Steele girls, Randy and Mag­gie’s daugh­ters.

Randi gave a speech, about the words her fa­ther left her. “Be head over heels,” he urged her. Jane crouched be­side her, held a cor­ner of Randi’s writ­ten speech and helped com­plete the last words when Randi’s voice was over­come.

When I think of Well­wood, I think of the per­fect light they stood in at that mo­ment, the kind that parts clouds in old paint­ings.

When I think of Well­wood now, I think of the amaz­ing peo­ple there who, when they hear and see the hard and the un­think­able, run to­ward it to help, not away from it for cover.

I think of Jane telling me so poignantly of her last mo­ments with her fa­ther, the late Peter Ge­orge, for­mer pres­i­dent of McMaster Univer­sity, who died April 27 of can­cer — on Jane’s birth­day, book­end­ing the 20 years of Well­wood with the loss of her par­ents. He tried to join the fam­ily, at his bed­side, in singing “Happy Birth­day” to her.

Well­wood is a record and mea­sure of 20 years of won­der­ful work, of growth. But mostly it’s the scale on which is weighed the pre­cious im­me­di­acy of this very mo­ment, in the in­stant it hap­pens, the liv­ing that there is still left to do, no mat­ter how much or lit­tle.

It is a big part of the good­ness in this world, the ra­di­ant good­ness be­ing knit up against its bro­ken­ness, one res­cu­ing stitch at a time.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF JANE GE­ORGE

Chil­dren at Well­wood on Sana­to­rium Road re­act to hear­ing the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion has knit­ted its 20,000th blan­ket for can­cer pa­tients.

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