Stories about cancer get venue for sharing

NNSL file photo
In June of last year, Kelsey McGinley was honoured as the Community Champion at the Hay River Relay for Life fundraising event for the Canadian Cancer Society. She had just returned from chemotherapy treatment in Edmonton.

A young woman is launching a Cancer Sharing Circle for Hay River.

Kelsey McGinley said such a group would have helped her when she went through cancer treatment last year in Edmonton and afterward.

“When I got home, I just kind of felt that there wasn’t much here as to support directly related to cancer,” she said.

McGinley said dealing with cancer is really hard to express in words.

“The journey itself is really hard to explain. It’s something that you feel,” she said. “So to be able to connect with people who have been through the same experience is really important when you’re healing from treatment.”

Therefore, she has decided to host the first Cancer Sharing Circle in Hay River on Sept. 12 from 7 to 9 p.m. at She Takes the Cake Café.

“My vision is to have a safe, welcoming, compassionate and confidential environment for people to gather and share anything cancer related, to receive support, feel connected and share their experiences,” she said.

McGinley said the group is open to anyone who has been impacted by cancer, including family and friends.

She noted the Cancer Sharing Circle and its planned monthly meetings will be the first initiative of the Karuna Group.

That is an organization she is forming in the hope that it will eventually become a not-for-profit registered society.

“I’m hoping that the Karuna Group can extend out and do other events for things that are related to cancer,” McGinley said.

As for the group’s name, she explained she wanted a name to express a message of compassion. She searched various languages for words meaning compassion, and found the Buddhist term Karuna.

The 32-year-old was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called choriocarcinoma in February 2016 and underwent treatment, including chemotherapy, before returning to Hay River in June of last year.

McGinley said that, during her battle with cancer, she wanted to talk to people who had gone through treatments and faced the fear of death from the disease.

“I was a little surprised that there wasn’t something in town because I actually found that Hay River, the community itself, is really great with support groups,” she said.

McGinley, who has lived in Hay River since 2005, said that, during her recovery, she felt very alone and disconnected, despite having the support of her family, spouse, her two young sons, doctors and many other people.

“To know that someone has been through what you’ve been through and to see them on the other side of it is really important to know that you can get better,” she said of the importance of talking to other cancer patients. “I think if I had the support group then it would have been an easier transition coming home from treatment.”

It was while in Yellowknife for an appointment with an oncologist that McGinley met and talked to other people from Hay River being treated for cancer.

“It was the first time since leaving my treatment that I felt connected,” she said. “It was knowing I could openly express my experiences for the last year and had people who truly understood my journey.”

Talking to those other people was great, she recalled. “And I just thought to myself there needs to be something in Hay River.”

There is another reason she decided to start the group.

“It was not only because of my journey through battling my own cancer, but seven years ago I also lost one of the most important people in my life, my Grandma Jean, to cancer,” she said. “And just talking to people about her helps me feel at peace missing her.”

McGinley’s intention at the first meeting of the Cancer Sharing Circle is to ask everyone what they would want out of the circle.

“It’s something I want to build with other people,” she said. “I don’t want to do it myself.”

McGinley has obtained a message of support from Catherine Dixon, the cancer care co-ordinator with Stanton Territorial Hospital and the NWT Health and Social Services Authority.

“I was first contacted by Kelsey McGinley in July 2016 inquiring about a local support group in Hay River,” Dixon wrote in the Aug. 28 message, “Unfortunately, to my knowledge, one did not exist.”
She offered McGinley information on how to start such a group.

“Kelsey’s vision of a safe, welcoming, compassionate and confidential environment for people to gather and share their cancer experiences is much needed in her community,” said Dixon.

One of the people who plans to be at the first meeting of the Cancer Sharing Circle is McGinley’s son Deacon Tybring.

The nine-year-old said it was scary to see his mother battling cancer.

“Like scarier than anything I’d ever been through,” he said.

The Cancer Sharing Circle will help people, even young people like himself, said Deacon. “I think it would be a good group because some people they don’t have anybody.”