I’ve been a volunteer with the telephone peer matching service for over 20 years. To find out how I first got involved with the Quebec Cancer Foundation, you have to go back 30 years.
It all started in 1990, when I was 36 years old and a mother of three young children, aged 7, 9 and 11. I was having severe stomach pains. My doctor at the time couldn’t find anything wrong and I was sent home with a simple medication for my nerves.
But the pain got worse. I was constantly hungry yet was unable to eat and I quickly lost 15 pounds. So I went to the hospital in Quebec City, which is an hour’s drive from the Beauce where I live.
The medical examinations detected cancer in my stomach: I was given a 5 to 50% chance of survival. My surgeon confided in me at the time that morale played a 70% role in the prognosis.
In the midst of the storm that engulfed me, I still attempted to remain hopeful and not give up. I was absolutely terrified at the thought of not seeing my children grow up and of not being there for them.
They removed my entire stomach, spleen and the tail of my pancreas. My esophagus is now directly connected to my intestine. I had to relearn how to cook and eat much healthier. I can only allow myself to eat small meals. At the very beginning I needed to chew everything 50 times before I swallowed it. I had to say goodbye to restaurants and eating out.
That was that time when the Quebec Cancer Foundation came into my life, on the hospital’s recommendation. Although I greatly appreciated the Foundation’s services, I was unable to take advantage of the activities on site because I lived in the Beauce.
I crossed paths with the Foundation again a few years later, during a workshop where I was offered the opportunity to become involved with the telephone peer matching service, which connects people affected by cancer with volunteers who have had a similar experience.
At first, I hesitated: I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it even though I was eager to help people going through the same ordeal as me. So I started off by agreeing to be matched with one first person. And on that very first call, I understood what telephone matching was truly about: I wasn’t their psychologist or nurse, I just had to listen to them empty their hearts and share my experience with them. Twenty years later, I can tell you that peer matching has become an important part of my life!
Being a telephone peer match volunteer has brought me so much. It has given me a strong sense of belonging; I feel like I’m part of a big family. Having lived through the ordeal of cancer, I know what these people are going through and so I know how to be that attentive ear or kind counselor that they need so badly. I also understand the importance of having someone to confide in. I wish I’d had that kind of support back then. To have had someone come into my hospital room 30 years ago and say, “You can live without a stomach!” Those words would have made a big difference to me.
Although I was able to count on my husband and my family, despite all their love and support, I needed an attentive, neutral ear to share what I was going through.
Almost one hundred matches, almost one hundred stories
Over the years, I have been matched with close to one hundred people. I accompany not only people who are going through stomach cancer, but also those living with other forms of cancer and even their family members and friends.
Throughout this adventure, I have had the chance to accompany extraordinary people, people with whom I have created memories that I will keep forever, conversations that are rich in meaning. Such as the teacher who would pass on the advice I gave her to her class of children, or Martine Lortie, who confided in me how my presence on the other end of the phone literally changed her life.
What is also very reassuring for the people I had the chance to talk to is knowing that I was able to survive my cancer.
“You just made my day!”
That’s what I hear a lot. It fills me with satisfaction to see that I’ve had a positive impact on them. So I try to give them the best of myself. When beneficiaries ask me questions that I don’t have answers to, once our call is over, I do some research and the next time I get a call, I can give them some concrete answers. But I don’t want to impose myself or give my opinion. I always prefer to lead people toward finding their own answers.
One big family, one big story
Having cancer changed my life and made a big difference in my history. I had to descend to the lowest point, get close to death, in order to learn how to live better. Cancer is part of my story and I can’t imagine my life without it…
This experience, although painful, brought me back to basics. In a world where everything is hurried, everything goes so fast that we no longer know how to enjoy life, cancer finally taught me how to live better, by choosing the small joys of daily life, enjoying the beauty of nature and realizing the importance of being with your loved ones, which is the greatest gift life can give.
Cancer affects one out of every two people in Quebec and will change their lives forever, just as it has changed mine.
I am happy to be the light at the end of the tunnel for everyone I was able to accompany through the telephone peer matching. And when other needs arise, I always tell them about the wide range of services offered by the Quebec Cancer Foundation.
I am proud to be part of the great family that is the Foundation; what it does for those affected and their loved ones it is quite simply extraordinary.