The Winslow Cancer Support Group, (WCSG), met to talk about keeping journals and through their entries communicate about their cancer experience. It was the largest gathering to date for the WCSG, and consisted of those still on their cancer journey, survivors, caregivers and empathetic friends. The group munched on tortilla chips and bean dip, zucchini bread and leftover holiday cookies. The mood was relaxed, with a tinge of sadness and in some cases triumph.
The WCSG was created after one of the members attended a weekend Upbeat Retreat in Flagstaff, Arizona more than six years ago. Petra Velez announced her intention to start a cancer support group in her locale, after traveling back and forth to Flagstaff. The trip took two hours driving time in all sorts of weather. Velez got together with a Flagstaff Medical Center social worker, Susan Brenchley, to get some advice.
The result was the WCSG, and Velez has never looked back. With the help of friends she met at the retreat, Ginger and Bert, Velez and her group have started the Winslow Cancer Support Group Race for the Cure, which occurs in the fall, and they have monthly meetings in Winslow.
The January meeting of the WCSG was attended by individuals who have experienced difficult journeys, however, just as many have been determined not to let it get them down-even in the case of a reoccurrence of cancer. One woman in the middle of her battle with breast cancer stated to the group: “I am so glad to start chemotherapy, and I will be triumphant over this disease.” The WCSG applauded her courage and optimism.
John gave an honest appraisal of his life since his wife died of breast cancer last May, after she had encouraged him to attend a WCSG meeting that same month. He said he felt lonely, and was not sure how to adapt to his new world. “My wife never once complained, she never said, ‘Why me?'” John has recently added a black labrador retriever to his home, and the dog keeps him busy. John finally asked his dog if she wanted to go with him on an errand and now she accompanies him everywhere.
Velez says that she knew it was up to her and her new friends to pave the way to reach out to cancer victims and those who care for them. She herself went through breast cancer treatment and came out of the other side to recovery. She tells her friends that she knew her experience had to lead to helping others, or it was all in vain. Velez’s husband, Art, is beside her all the way.
Another member of the group, a recovering alcoholic for 26 years, said she knew from AA the steps to use to deal with her illness. One day at a time was her favorite mantra. She still had tears to share with the group, when she recounted both her and her husband’s cancer diagnoses.
Jessica Olivas, just 25 years old, has been a part of the group for five years now. She was diagnosed with Lymphoma, and is now in remission. During her particular journey, Olivas filmed a documentary with the help of the a Sante Fe arts group. She has shown the documentary to cancer support groups, who have applauded its relevance to young people who suffer from the disease.
The Winslow Cancer Support Group met last Friday. The next one in February should be even better. There are so many attendees now, that they have to find a bigger meeting place.
By Lisa M Pickering
Interview with: Petra Velez