Melanie Bagley knows what it’s like to live with cancer.
She knows what it’s like to beat cancer, and she knows the physical victory is not a complete victory.
“You’re left with physical, mental and emotional scars. You live with a dagger over your head – fear of recurrence. How do you proceed with life?”
She refers to the fear as ‘the dragon’, and last October, set about organizing the Living with a Dragon workshop not only for cancer survivors, but for their families and friends.
The idea came about in early 2013 as Bagley finished her treatment, and wanted to know how she could help others going through a similar situation.
She explained there is no counselling help for those “living with the dragon,” only for patients who have terminal cancer.
“I have a friend who is a psychologist … and I spent time talking with her and it really helped me. I realized that if I was struggling, lots of other people are struggling with this as well.”
Bagley noted she quickly realized there was a need in the community for support and information, but didn’t want it to become part of her identity. So she enlisted the help of a variety of community partners, beginning with the St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation.
“When they heard about it, they wanted to be a part of it. The feedback was incredible.”
The workshop brought together 13 speakers and more than 90 attendants. This year, the workshop is set for Nov. 8 and features a variety of speakers and topics including ‘Identifying triggers that cause fear,’ ‘If your spouse has cancer’ and ‘Community support.’
Glenda Wilson, a member of the Hope Afloat Dragon Boat Team, is a speaker at the workshop this year, but as an attendee in its inaugural year, she noted the workshop fills a gap for support in the central and north Island.
“It is a support mechanism. It’s very important because people finish up their cancer treatments and there is support in the bigger centres, but outside of Victoria this is crucial.”
She added one of the biggest pieces she took away from the workshop is the sense that she is part of a larger community of survivors.
“I looked around me at all of these people and I wasn’t alone, it isn’t unique. That’s a big thing – it’s a common issue. In the workshop I actually saw the impact it had on people taking part.”
Bagley said a variety of professionals including doctors, nutritionists and counsellors heard about the workshop and wanted to participate.
She added about 60 per cent of attendees are cancer survivors and 40 per cent are family, friends and supporters.
This year, there will be a bonus session – Living an Anti-Cancer lifestyle – in the afternoon, sponsored by InspireHealth. The bonus session is free of charge, and the workshop is by donation to St. Joseph’s Cancer Care. Bagley noted anyone interested should bring a pen and paper.
The workshop will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Westerly Hotel and Conference Centre in Courtenay.
For more information or to register, visit livingwithadragon.ca.