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Volume 1, Issue 4
Winter 2005:

Forging Ahead

Farrah Mateen

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Winter; 1(4):a6

Saskatchewan, celebrating its 100th birthday this year, has always needed a pioneer spirit to overcome its formidable geography. The provincial chapter of the brain tumor support group, began in the summer of 2004 in Saskatoon, is no exception. Although the immigrants who first came to the Canadian West believed settlements like Saskatoon would one day rival Chicago and New York as large metropolitan centers, many of the towns and villages in Saskatchewan remain small and separated even today. Today's citizens, many of whom are descendents of these early pioneers, remain dispersed across the province.

Geography is the challenge when holding a centralized brain tumor support group meeting in a province like Saskatchewan. The majority of brain tumor patients and their families live outside of the city. Yet, each meeting involves people from out of town. Members have often driven for more than an hour to arrive. Rain or shine, they maintain the connectedness of the group across regions and ways of life.

What, then, do they receive by attending the meeting? What makes them come back or stay away in the coming months? This is the question that a brain tumor facilitator wonders about on a monthly basis.

The Saskatoon group has seen both the comers-and-goers and the true-blues. I believe the group's strength has evolved due to the participation of both. A core number people come out each month — a meeting among friends — which allows the scheduling of guest speakers and other long-term goals to be accomplished. Likewise, the group welcomes and looks forward to new members each month — people who seek the information presented that day and then slip away, leaving us to wonder how and if their visit was helpful.

As a facilitator, (one who never before considered herself the "support-group type"), I have learned the following:

  • Meetings are not merely emotional exercises, but forums for understanding details that can be difficult to interpret as a new patient with a brain tumor. Our group has talked about everything from 1p chromosomal deletions to where the best Thai food in town is. (Those who are interested, particularly in the latter, missed a great meeting.)
  • The group has developed activities and organized projects to increase awareness about brain tumors in general. Not only are participants receiving information; they are also spreading it to other people with brain tumors who don't know the Foundation exists. (This year was Saskatchewan's first, modest but enthuaiastic, Spring Sprint — May 15, 2005!)
  • Heterogeneity marks the group. Everyone's story is different and almost every member is at different stages of his or her diagnosis, treatment, or recovery. We have seen both young and old, and we've learned as much from the listeners as the speakers.

Saskatchewan's support group celebrates its first birthday this summer. Eventually, it is hoped that smaller groups will pop up elsewhere in the province. Until that time, the dedication of the chapter's members, from both the city and afar, represents the pioneering spirit that I have discovered in all people I've met with brain tumors not only in Saskatoon, but across the country.

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