Posted on

Unconditional Support, Advice and Camaraderie in Face of Terminal Illness

Chrystine Somerville shares her experience of the women’s support group and says the Hospice Peterborough program has been a ‘godsend’

After being diagnosed with cancer and moving with her husband to Young’s Point for retirement, Chrystine Somerville knew very few people, didn’t know the area and had little knowledge about what local health supports were available, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

When she heard that Hospice Peterborough was offering a virtual women’s support group, for those with a terminal illness, she decided to give it a try and says she knew from the very first minute of the meeting that she had found “the right place to be.”

“This group has been a godsend,” says the 56-year-old. “The support, the laughter, the suggestions, the encouragement, the camaraderie, the understanding, the heartfelt empathy and so on that is the makeup of our group, is a lifeline in a sometimes confusing, often raging storm called cancer. I am beyond grateful for having been accepted into this group and supported by these wonderful women.”

Known as Day Hospice, this program offers a professional facilitator to guide women’s and men’s groups through the journey of living with a terminal diagnosis. It is often a lifeline for participants by offering support, advocacy and healthcare navigation services during what can be the participants’ most difficult stage of life. The group often opens with a guided meditation and then offers the chance to share updates, ask for advice or simply sit and listen. Participants often brainstorm about how others manage their illness, medication, family issues, physical and emotional pain and COVID-19, all while supporting each other.

Clients learn from each other, support each other and also learn new and practical methods of coping with their illness including self-care, dietary needs and managing anxiety.

Chrystine Somerville

For the past nine years, Kawartha Credit Union has generously funded Day Hospice and, like all of Hospice’s programs and services, there is never a fee for participants to join.

Before COVID-19, the groups used to meet in person once per week, followed by a shared lunch. As of March 2020, however, Hospice Peterborough immediately pivoted to a Zoom platform – never missing a weekly session – to continue supporting clients at a time when traditional support from family and friends has been severely limited.

For people like Chrystine, that means that throughout an unprecedented time of isolation and social distancing, she has made friends, felt supported and learned more about her medical condition, all without ever setting foot in the Hospice Peterborough building.

“I’d still like to get in there one day!” she says with a laugh.

Chrystine says the most important thing to know is that the groups are far from “doom and gloom.” While all participants understand the realities of each other’s conditions and often lean on each other in times of sadness, she says the energy is one of “loving and caring” with room for laughter, jokes, hopeful stories, family news and, perhaps most importantly, unconditional support with no judgement.

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, she and other participants have been able to safely meet outside of the group for lunch and small social gatherings.

“Having said that, it’s not a coffee club,” Chrystine adds. “We are all dealing with a terminal illness and it’s very comforting to be able to be there for one another unconditionally.”

Chrystine says she’s thankful for the program, which can also direct participants to other Hospice programs and services such as a supportive care counsellor. She’s also overwhelmed that this service has no fee, thanks to generous community donations from businesses such as the Kawartha Credit Union as well as individuals.

“I am just so grateful,” she says. “Hospice Peterborough is on my gratitude list every day.”