Shock, anger, denial and fear of the unknown marked the start of Kelly-Rae Buchan’s battle with breast cancer last November. And she’s not alone. Fortunately for the 49-year-old Summerland mother of one and hundreds of other women in the South Okanagan, there are people in their corner who have been there. The name of the organization says it all: Tomorrow’s Hope. Started in 2011, the volunteer, peer-driven organization was formed under the direction of the Survivorship Breast Cancer Dragon Boat team after members identified a need for support and advocacy for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. “My journey started with confusion. No one ever expects to get the news they have cancer,” said Buchan. “You are in shock, you don’t even know how to feel, you’re upset, you cry because you don’t understand anything. “The doctors always present it as recommendations and you think to yourself, ‘I have to make that medical decision without any information. Should I? Shouldn’t I?’” But that all changed when her mother, Tanice Foulon, learned about Tomorrow’s Hope from a relative. Ironically, a member of the organization, Cathie Lauer, a breast cancer survivor herself, lived just down the hall in their Summerland condominium building. “I arranged for Cathie to come over and meet my daughter and she explained everything and it was just so great,” said Foulon. “I found it more supportive for myself because Kelly was kind of in shock so for me to get that information from Tomorrow’s Hope was all about helping me help my daughter. “Without (Tomorrow’s Hope), I wouldn’t have known where to turn. For a support person this information is invaluable at the most critical time.” Buchan recalled just how difficult her first medical appointments were after learning she had cancer. “I would walk out of the doctor’s office and would say to myself, ‘I didn’t understand a thing they told me,’” she recalled. “From then on I had to have my mom go to every appointment because I couldn’t keep up with the information and she was always there to support me.” Together the three women worked through Buchan’s cancer journey, the patient getting stronger with the more she learned. “Thank God for that information, I couldn’t have gone through this without them. There was nowhere else to go,” she said. “Once I learned about the cancer I could advocate more for myself whereas if you don’t know anything you just sit there and feel very, very confused and alone.” In addition to one-on-one support, Tomorrow’s Hope also provides a “cancer kit” that includes an in-depth book and other information. A retired nurse, Lauer has survived two bouts of breast cancer and knows first-hand the need for support and education. “It’s just critical to get that information out to people as soon as possible and even being a nurse I just couldn’t get that information and it’s so very easy to get misinformation,” she said. “People Google things and they get misinformation and it scares them to death which is the last thing they need. “When you’re first diagnosed it’s very much like a death sentence, it’s overwhelming and panic sets in so the lack of information or poor information is overwhelming.” Important for Buchan was learning that breast cancer is not an “old ladies’’” disease and is also part of the reason she is now helping another woman her age with breast cancer. “I met the lady who was reaching out to the world for support and now I’m her support person,” said Buchan. “I am able to help her and pass along the experience I had and I’m enjoying being there for somebody so it’s not so confusing.” According to Lauer, statistics show that four in 1,000 women in their 30s will get the disease and it is also not as hereditary as some people think. The support kits are given out by the group at no charge and all the information is confidential. For more information about Tomorrow’s Hope email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.tomorrowshope.ca.
Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Penticton Herald