A new support group has opened up in Port Alberni for those who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Heidi Stokes is the facilitator for the new Alberni Valley Cancer Support Group, which offers community-based peer support for people who have diagnosed with cancer. Stokes, who received training from the Canadian Cancer Society to become a peer support facilitator, has had cancer twice—Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was younger, and then radiation-induced breast cancer caused by her cancer treatment.
Facilitated by those with a shared experience of cancer, the group is meant to provide a safe, inclusive space for those dealing with cancer—or those who have dealt with cancer in the past.
“It’s a place where we can come together and be ourselves,” explained Stokes. “When you talk to family or friends, they want to tell you, ‘It’s gonna be okay,’ when you know it might not be okay.”
The group is intended to provide a sense of hope, comfort and encouragement, added Stokes.
“You can just be yourself,” she said. “You can just cry or yell or scream or curse the world that you’re going through this, and we will know what you mean.”
Confidentiality and privacy are utmost, said Stokes, and the group goes over this at the beginning of every meeting. The meetings usually clock in at around two hours of discussion, with coffee, tea and refreshments provided.
Port Alberni’s Canadian Cancer Society is currently in transition. The society was forced to close its office in 2018, and chairperson Bev Frolic stepped down in 2019. At this time, no one else has stepped up to take it on.
There are still volunteers, explained Stokes, who run the annual daffodil campaign and help out with the Tour de Rock. But the society is still working to re-establish a volunteer group for local fundraising.
“I couldn’t have done this without the ongoing support of the volunteers from the Port Alberni Canadian Cancer Society,” Stokes explained. “All of them have supported me along the way and all feel very strongly about being able to support our community.”
Cancer Support Group meetings take place on the first and third Monday of every month from 7-9 p.m. at Abbey Hall (located in the basement of Abbeyfield, 3839 Eighth Ave.).
There is no admission charge, although Stokes usually provides a donation to Abbeyfield for the use of the room. The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 3.
Those who want more information about the meetings, or who are interested in volunteering, can visit cancer.ca or contact Stokes at 250-720-9204.