A cancer diagnosis can be an isolating experience.
Throw a pandemic in the mix, and that feeling of loneliness intensifies.
In 2019, Cathy Commisso, was diagnosed with breast cancer before being plunged into lockdown. Living alone, Cathy was cut off from her support system at a time she needed them the most.
“I was at home, staring at the same four walls everyday—and no one could come around to visit,” says Cathy.
This was until Cathy found solace through Wellspring Cancer Support online programs. After taking part in several programs, she was able to build a network of peers that understood her journey—and that included Laura Smith.
Before the pandemic, Laura was also diagnosed with breast cancer, and had completed her eight-week Cancer Exercise Program at Wellspring but was aching for more. When lockdown hit, Wellspring’s centres were closed but were offering online programs, including exercise videos. Laura saw this as an opportunity to gather the friends she made at Wellspring to establish a weekly workout routine.
While the group was initially established for online workouts, it has since formed into something greater—and they still meet online to this day.
“It’s our own friendship support group in a way, a chance for us to all chat and share tips about our cancer journeys,” says Laura. “We began regularly meeting online together and inviting other Wellspring members who we met through Wellspring programs—that is how I met Cathy.”
Most of the group still haven’t met in person. But in September of 2023, Cathy and Laura met each other at Wellspring Birmingham Gilgan House for the very first time. The reunion was happy and emotional. It cemented something deeper for both—that their friendship extends beyond the computer screen.
“We usually see each other through a little box on the screen—but the in-person version is much better! I remember thinking, ‘Wow, Cathy, you’re so beautiful—and you’re real!’” says Laura.
“Meeting Laura for the first time—I was so elated I can’t even express it. I finally got to see her in person, on neutral ground at Wellspring,” says Cathy.
Since September, Cathy and Laura have continued their in-person meet-ups, with Cathy even taking part in a cancer fundraiser that Laura had organized. Today, they both acknowledge the significant role Wellspring played in their lives.
“It has been a journey for both of us. Wellspring has been a major part of that, and we’ve made some beautiful friends along the way,” says Cathy.
“It is nice to have people that have gone through the same journey as me—who have had treatments and experienced the same side effects. I probably wouldn’t be as far along on my own breast reconstruction journey if it weren’t for the friends I made through Wellspring,” says Laura.
Cathy encourages anyone looking to join Wellspring to make that leap, because they might make a lifelong friend like she has with Laura.
“Wellspring was there for me when I was at my lowest and the amazing group of people that I have met I will never forget,” says Cathy.
“Everything I have learned goes back to Wellspring. Thank you for all you do because without you, we wouldn’t know about these options. It makes our journey easier,” says Laura.
This October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Wellspring is leading a series of programs called Be Well Talks: Breast Cancer Series. It will touch on a number of common questions and concerns that people with breast cancer, and their loved ones, have.
For more information or to sign up, visit www.wellspring.ca.