Alberta Cancer Foundation

Wellspring Calgary provides a home away from home

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COMFORTING WORDS: Sue Witcher has found solace in attending Wellspring Calgary two or three times a week for programs, or to just curl up and read in the facility’s library. Photo by Brian Buchsdreucker

A cancer diagnosis is a time of fear, uncertainty and isolation for both the person diagnosed and his or her loved ones. But thanks to Wellspring Calgary and its educational and supportive programs, no one needs to face this experience alone.

“I never thought of doing these things for myself before cancer. The centre is a gift, a place to go and heal. It’s upbeat and anyone who has been touched by cancer is welcome,” says Sue Witcher.

As more people survive cancer, demand for services like Wellspring is increasing. Each week, 20-25 new members walk through the doors at Wellspring Calgary to access the comprehensive programs that are free thanks to donors and successful fundraising efforts. According to Wellspring’s executive director, Patti Morris, the facility is sometimes oversubscribed, and they must rent community space to offer programs. Despite the demand, “Wellspring has never had to turn anyone away. We are always considering the best way to meet the outstanding needs we know are out there,” Morris says.

Recognizing both the value and the need for these services, the Alberta Cancer Foundation has invested $213,000 to help Wellspring Calgary expand its programs and services over the next year. “We are overwhelmed by their interest in this strategic partnership,” says Morris.

Although treatment centres provide valuable psycho social services, these needs continue after a person leaves the hospital, and that is where Wellspring Calgary steps in. Careful not to duplicate services, Wellspring Calgary offers more than 20,000 hours of programming each year, making it the busiest Wellspring centre in Canada. Wellspring Calgary’s programs focus on education, exercise, movement and expressive arts. They also offer a speaker series featuring experts who share the latest knowledge on a wide variety of topics.

Joining Wellspring is as easy as arriving at Wellspring Calgary’s Carma House and taking a tour of the two-storey house nestled in a retreat-like setting. Membership
does not require a referral. Wellspring Calgary supports members from the day of diagnosis through treatment and post treatment, when they are picking up the pieces of their lives.

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Good carma: Joining Wellspring is as easy as arriving at Carma House. Photo by Brian Buchsdreucker

Members come from a variety of age groups, including young adults (between the ages of 18 and 39) like Donna Rasmussen, who was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer, Mediastinal large B Cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma at age 36. She says that at first she felt a bit out of place due to her age. “Once I started to get to know them it didn’t matter, the shared experience supersedes the age difference. The benefits far outweigh any uncomfortable feelings at the beginning.”

Although she did not meet anyone else with the same diagnosis, Rasmussen says that wasn’t necessary to feel a connection. In addition to the connection at Wellspring Calgary she felt, “just having something in my schedule was helpful.”

During treatment, Rasmussen attended Wellspring whenever she felt able to go. She accessed programs such as Reiki, Healing Touch and Healing Journey. “I felt safe at Wellspring because everyone is so involved with people with cancer, they were sensitive to our physical comfort and the place was so clean, which is an issue when people have immune system issues.” Now in full remission and back working full-time, Rasmussen says she would continue to attend if Wellspring was open
on Sundays.

For members like Sue Witcher, the cancer journey is ongoing. Diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer, she will always require treatment. Witcher began attending Wellspring almost immediately. “I met people who had the same thing. I loved the place, this beautiful home that is so welcoming.”

At first, Witcher believed she could not attend The Healing Journey Program because her cancer is incurable. The program, a popular and practical one at Wellspring, provides tools to calm the mind and promote health for both people with cancer and caregivers. It is just one of many programs Witcher has attended. She visits Wellspring two or three times a week and says it helps her deal with the fear and uncertainty of living with cancer. “When I come home I feel empowered, inspired and hopeful.”

Witcher has sampled most of the programs offered at Wellspring. “There is not a class I haven’t enjoyed,” she says. For anyone not feeling up to participating in programs, there are other options as well. Sometimes, Witcher curls up in the well-stocked library and reads, or just sits peacefully and enjoys the beautiful views of nature enveloping the space.

Although no one would choose a cancer diagnosis, Witcher has found a gift in the experience. “I never thought of doing these things for myself before cancer,” she says. She describes Wellspring as a happy place. “The centre is a gift, a place to go and heal. It’s upbeat and anyone who has been touched by cancer is welcome.”

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Caring counsellor: Wellspring’s executive director, Patti Morris speaks with a member at Carma House. Photo by Brian Buchsdreucker

Cancer touches caregivers as well, and they can attend any Wellspring Calgary program. The Caregivers Only program provides respite education and helps loved ones recognize and accept the challenging nature of their role. Christina Poniecki has attended the caregivers’ session and several programs with her mom, for whom she has taken on a caregiving role since her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She appreciates the atmosphere. “It feels like a home thanks to the staff focusing on us so personally. It is like being welcomed at a relative’s house,” she says.

Poniecki attends programs with her mom, who isn’t physically able to go alone. The programs have strengthened their bond. She also feels that assuming the caregiving role has allowed her to give back to her mother. “Our relationship feels more balanced. She was difficult to give to and she’s been giving to us all her life. I’m glad to be part of her learning. To be truly whole we to need to be able to do both – give and receive.”

Echoing the sentiments of many, Poniecki says, “It helps to know you are not the only one who feels pain, fear and grief. Being together in this vulnerable way is heart nourishment for us all.”

This heart-and-soul nourishment was key to Daryl Moldenhauer’s success. Diagnosed in 2008 with esophageal cancer, Moldenhauer’s prognosis was dismal. “But I just had my five-year check-up,” he says. “I attribute much of my success to Wellspring.”

Moldenhauer joined Wellspring soon after diagnosis. “I needed every edge I could get,” he says. “I could see there was a lot more to recovering from cancer than the physical aspect. I had a lot of fear and anxiety but I felt this was a safe place as soon as I walked in.” He had several healing touch treatments but due to complications after his surgery Moldenhauer was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for months. “Two healing touch practitioners came into the ICU to do more treatments. I cannot say enough about their commitment and dedication to the members of Wellspring.”

As a man, Moldenhauer was a minority at Wellspring Calgary. “It was a bit uncomfortable in the beginning but that has left me,” he says. “Now, I’m just part of the group.” That group has supported him as he eased back into the workforce with the help of Wellspring’s Return to Work program.

Now an active member post-treatment, Moldenhauer visits Wellspring two or three times a week. His advice to others: “Wellspring programs can improve our outcomes. Healing from the emotional and spiritual aspects of cancer just increases our odds.”

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