When Christian Blouin got his cancer diagnostic two years ago, he was in shock. To him, it was the end of the world. “You can never be prepared for that kind of news” he says. Once the shock wore off, he was sad and also feared having to announce the news to his wife, two daughters and friends.
He was the kind of person that lived his life to the fullest, always giving his 110% in everything he did: with his family, in his executive job in the pharmaceutical industry, and in his community as he also lent his time as a volunteer for West Island Community Shares and other local not-for-profits.
When I asked him how he came to have such a positive attitude towards his cancer journey, he says that he really had two choices. “Once I digested the news, I realized that I could either crash and feel sorry for myself, or be positive and try to live life as usual”. Christian was motivated by his wife and daughters. He didn’t want them to see him sad because he knew that this would in turn make his wife and daughters very sad. But he also adds that he probably had a predisposition to react with a positive attitude.
Because of his medical and pharmaceutical background, he was able to navigate quite well in the labyrinth of medical terms and protocol. But he does say that it was not always easy to put on a happy face and have a positive attitude, 24/7. He has a very complicated and rare form of prostate cancer where you don’t know if the treatments are effective. The cells are so microscopic that you can only detect the resurgence of the cells once they have metastasized.
He visited the West Island Cancer Wellness Center when he was first diagnosed and this gem of a center nestled in Beaurepaire village in Beaconsfield was a precious resource for him. Especially at a time when he had so many questions and was trying so hard not to dump the diagnosis on his family’s shoulders.
Now, two years after the initial shock of the diagnosis, he says he is not afraid of death, but he doesn’t want to leave his loved ones, including a new 4 month-old granddaughter. “Cancer gives you perspective on life. Something changed inside me and I appreciate life even more than before”. Christian now wears this special watch. It’s a watch that doesn’t tell time; there are no hands to tell time. “It’s a reinforcement and reminder that I want to live in the present moment”.
The West Island Cancer Wellness Center was co-founded by an inspiring individual and two-time cancer survivor, Debbie Magwood. The center can change the lives of people living with cancer, in a positive way. When you ask the Center’s team what emotions people have when they contact the center, they tell you this: “A lot of people tell us that they don’t want to be in a place where everyone is sad or depressed. Support groups are not for them, they don’t want to be reminded of having cancer, etc….”.
The reality is, yes, many people do find it scary and become depressed, but there is a lot of positive energy at the centre. This centre can empower people living with cancer to gain control in their lives after such a diagnosis. There are so many great programs for cancer patients as well as caregivers to enjoy. And, they are free! “It’s about taking care of yourself. This is the time that it should be all about you!” says Serena Chenoy of the center. They often hear “I’m not that sick so I wouldn’t want to take the place of someone who is”, or “I’m just a caregiver so I should leave my spot to the person living with cancer”. Cancer affects everyone and if everyone who is affected by it receives support, everyone will become empowered and that’s how we fight. We take control.
Chenoys adds: “This is not a palliative care centre. People come here to laugh, to forget, to empower themselves and create their own wellness plan. They become better educated on their specific illness and feel inspired”.
I spoke to another group that West Island Community Shares’ supports. VOBOC (Venturing Out Beyond Our Cancer, who was founded by an inspiring woman and cancer survivor named Doreen Edward) adds that even when people hear their doctor say “You’re cancer free”, it can bring on another set of emotions.
“This week, we heard from a young person who has gone through cancer treatment and is now deemed cancer free. An issue that often comes up in our continual interactions with Young Adult cancer patients and survivors is: what comes after cancer?” says Vanessa Hage of VOBOC.
“Invariably, you are never the same after a cancer diagnosis” she adds.
It can continue to affect a person’s life years after. A return to “normalcy” is impossible because the old routine simply does not hold with the new reality. The change goes beyond the scars; it is profound and existential in many cases. It can color future interactions with friends, family, employers etc.
“If a patient comes out of the cancer experience with clean bill of health and is deemed cancer free, many people often assume, after the celebration, that that is the end of it. However, in many cases, other wellness issues follow” says Hage.
Body image perception, self-esteem issues, depression, reckoning with repercussions of treatment (body modification, fertility issues)…these are a few of the issues cancer survivors must face. “Due to the general desire to label and categorize, many people fail to understand that just because someone is cancer free doesn’t mean that they are well. They may still need support in adjusting to the offshoots of having undergone treatment” adds Hage.
I recently met another inspiring West Islander. Her name is Olga Munari Assaly. She wrote a book called The Joy of Cancer “A Journey of Self-discovery”. She is now cancer-free from breast cancer. This woman is so full of life when you meet her. Right away you know she is special and possesses this wisdom that one gets from a life changing experience. Her story is one of empowerment and personal transformation. I recommend checking out her web site: www.thejoyofcancer.me or reading her book.
To all our fellow West Islanders who have battled or are currently battling this disease, we salute your courage.
October is breast cancer awareness month. If you need help and support, or know somweone who does, whatever the cancer, there are great resources in the West Island that can ease the cancer journey, as Doreen Edward (VOBOC) likes to put it.
Venturing Out Beyond Our Cancer (VOBOC) is dedicated to easing the cancer journey for adolescents and young adults undergoing cancer treatment by granting special requests.
West Island Cancer Wellness Centre offers a whole-person approach to cancer care focusing on the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and educational needs of those experiencing cancer.
Telephone: 514-695-WELL (9355)
Volunteer Assisted Services (VAS) – Accompagnement bénévoles de l’Ouest-de-l’île (ABO). Provides transportation and accompaniment to treatment for residents battling cancer or other critical illnesses who have no other means of transportation.
Telephone: (514) 694-3838
To view the original article via the Montreal Gazette, please click here.