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Knowing you are not alone – Jessica’s camp story

Jessica Williams – Gilda’s Toronto Member

About two years ago, I found out I had colon cancer. When I spoke with my kids’ school about it, one of the suggestions was to reach out to Gilda’s Toronto. I knew the story of Gilda Radner.

It wasn’t easy to step outside my comfort zone and go to camp while going through chemo and a broken tailbone. I didn’t understand what it meant to be with people who understood what I was going through because they were doing the same things. I liked how the younger kids went off on their own, and then the adults got to be adults. Free of children. The kids were happy doing what they were doing.

My kids took one of the support groups at Gilda’s Toronto. On the second day of camp, I realized that some kids were kids they had met in the support group. That was great. Walking into a place where it’s not all strangers, especially for my kids, was a nice transition from the support group to the camp, seeing familiar faces, knowing stories and matching families to kids they had seen before.

Talking to other parents gave me their perspective on my situation. Everybody handles it differently, and everybody’s situation is different. Hearing other peoples’ experiences and comparing them to mine was important. Hearing how somebody else did something might inspire me to use that approach.

We’re going to the family skate night. We went to a baseball game and saw people we knew, people we had seen before who knew our names. They knew my kids. At school, they don’t know anybody else who’s going through this. They ask, why is this happening to me? It’s not happening to anyone else I know.

My kids have fears and don’t understand everything. It’s great to take all that away and be with people who get it.

We were all there because we had cancer, but much of our day was spent doing things that had nothing to do with cancer. We were able to put cancer aside and do things with people who are in the same space. I found that relieving because I didn’t know what to expect. Was this going to be an emotionally draining and depressing experience? I found it was easy to put the cancer aside while still existing in it and focus on the activities we were doing, focusing on getting to know people.

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I wanted to make memories with my kids. We came away with little carved wooden discs with our names and pictures we drew. We went away with such a positive experience, and we have these little things around our house. We have such lasting positive memories, which, during cancer and chemo, are sometimes hard to find.

The volunteers and the people from Gilda’s Toronto didn’t stop. They went all day, all night, always smiling, always accommodating. We had our counsellor who looked after our family. We felt cared for and cared about. We felt like we could trust these people. We were safe.

It takes dedication to be warm, kind, compassionate and caring to people. I’m sure there are days when they wonder if this is making an impact. And it did for me and my kids.

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