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For those with cancer, Journey of Hope offers light in the darkness

Led by breast-cancer survivor Lesley Tripp, peer-support group allows participants to explore their journeys while battling the 'Big C" at the Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre

Lesley Tripp was a young mother raising three children aged five, seven and eight when she got the worst possible news from her doctor.

The local businesswoman, who now runs Test Batches Brewery in Midland with her husband Jamie after earlier owning a popular downtown paint store, received the dreaded sentence that hits hard with words that plough into your psyche like a double-axle truck careening into a one-storey building.

“You have cancer.”

Tripp was stunned.

In 2004, she was a young mother after all, happily raising her three children Sam, Tom and Alex with husband Jamie. They had moved up to Midland from Toronto in 1995 after purchasing the aforementioned paint business.

They had a good life and now this.

Her immediate thoughts turned to her young children and how they would cope if she died.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly to those who have also been on the cancer-diagnosis train, life somehow starts to feel more hopeful once you learn more and begin the process of accepting your fate and begin trying to get better through whatever means necessary.

That’s what happened to Tripp.

“I just didn’t want to die,” she says. “It was autopilot for me. I wanted to know what’s my course of action, what’s my treatment plan.”

Blessed with a strong support system of family and friends, Tripp found her way after initially being diagnosed with breast cancer. She eventually underwent a mastectomy followed by six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation treatments.

While cancer support groups existed at the time of her diagnosis, Tripp couldn’t afford to take the long hours away from home since it would mean hopping in her car and driving out of town, all at a time when she wasn't feeling well.

“Jamie was my rock,” she says. “He was with me every step of the way. I was very fortunate to have such support and the community rallied around us. I also had a friend group that treated me like I was not sick.”

While Tripp counts herself lucky to have that kind of support, the same might not be true for everyone. They would have to travel, sometimes to Toronto, to get the needed help.

But that changed upon the opening of the Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre.

Tripp remembers centre founder and fellow cancer survivor Sandy Cornell coming to speak with her years ago as they both sat on her deck.

“She asked if I would be involved,” Tripp recalls, noting Cornell had also been diagnosed with breast cancer. “And I said, ‘absolutely’.

From that conversation, Tripp became a committed volunteer at the centre, both sharing her journey and helping others feel comfortable during group sessions as they explored their own inner battles as they worked through the big ‘C’.

Tripp began volunteering out of the Penetanguishene hospital, which served as the centre’s initial location before its eventual move to a state-of-the-art building on Edward Street.

“I’ve always been fairly vocal about my journey,” Tripp says. “I felt I could help others going through the journey.”

Ever since her initial commitment to help others going through cancer, Tripp has been a mainstay at the centre, which offers a range of services and programs while providing psychosocial support to people living with cancer, their families and caregivers in the community.

Tripp's long running, bi-weekly program is called Journey of Hope. It offers a place for members to gather and learn from the experience of others who have faced cancer and become energized from a unique shared experience. While the group was initially a women's cancer support group, it is now open to both men and women.

A trained facilitator, Tripp makes participants feel welcome in a non-judgmental environment and ensures everyone’s voice is heard during the every-other-Wednesday sessions that normally attract between four and 10 local residents.

“I’m very pragmatic, we talk about everything,” she says. “It’s peer-support driven. My only thing is you don’t leave (the session) with something on your mind.

“A lot of my group members also have great support,” she says, noting that even with solid support, family members and close friends might not fully understand “the depth of how” someone coping with cancer is feeling.

Tripp says that each journey is unique and that she wants program participants to know that feelings of hopelessness and questioning their own mortality are perfectly normal.

"We talk, we listen,” she says. “As people are going through similar but different journeys, it's helpful to talk with those who understand.” 

Nicole Robitaille admits her world changed when she heard the word cancer was part of her life.

But when she first attended the Journey of Hope, the group welcomed her and she says she felt like part of the "family."

"We are there for each other. We laugh, cry and share our journeys together.”

Sometimes Tripp has to prompt discussion with a question, but more often than not, those in attendance just start talking and sharing.

"This is a peer-support group so mostly I facilitate it from a place of having bad cancer and understanding what I needed and what I have seen others need to discuss,” she says.

“I talk from my heart.”

(It’s Cancer Awareness Month in April and all donations made over the month are being matched. Your donation has twice the impact. Programs like  Journey of Hope and other programs and services at the Centre depend on donations from generous supporters throughout local area. To support the GBCSC, click here.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country‚Äôs most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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