When Elaine Gardiner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997, she was filled with
questions. “I really thought it would be nice to talk to someone, and I didn’t know a soul
with ovarian cancer,” Gardiner said.
Gardiner eventually found comfort and answers by talking to a breast cancer survivor
about her experiences. “Sometimes it is just nice to have someone to unload on that
has been through it,” Gardiner said. “Just talking to someone that has been through it
can give you a lot of hope.”
In November 2005, Gardiner retired from teaching and founded a group that connects
people over the phone who have cancer, further providing for others that sense of hope
she had found so comforting. “When you aren’t feeling good and dealing with the after
effects of chemo and don’t want to leave your house, but want to talk to someone
about what you are going through, that is what we do,” she said.
Cancer Connections has just over 40 volunteers who all have completed their cancer treatment and want to support people
newly diagnosed with the disease. “It is a group of people who have all had cancer who are willing to speak to others
diagnosed with cancer on a one-on-one basis,” Gardiner said. “The neatest group of people I have ever met; they live all over
the county, both men and women.”
Cancer Connections tries to match each caller with someone who has had the same type of cancer as they do, or who has
undergone the same type of treatment. “Almost always we are able to match a caller with someone who has had that same
type of cancer or treatment,” Cancer Connections Volunteer Cathrin Eckle explained. “I usually get the people with
non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or seeking peripheral stem-cell transplants.”
Cancer Connection is not a nonprofit organization.
“We are a self-supporting grassroots group and not a tax deductible,” Gardiner said. “This would not be an organization if we
didn’t have all the wonderful people that have dealt with cancer involved. They show people going through it now that they are
not alone.” Cancer Connections is completely free and confidential. It also offers support for spouses of cancer patients.
Gardiner acknowledges that everyone deals with cancer differently and often makes referrals if they do not offer what
someone is looking for, like group discussions.
“I think that all of the support groups in the area are very effective in what they do,” Eckle said. “I think that at Cancer
Connections we just share what our experience was.”
Eckle is proud to be have been involved with Cancer Connections when she was battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.“It brings
meaning to my experience, and the validation that I went through this, and now I can share it and help someone else,” Eckle
Though Cancer Connections offers no medical advice, volunteers are often good sources for tips on getting through chemo
therapy. “Sleep with two pillows, and switch off between the two so one is always cold; it helps with hot flashes,” Eckle said.
“In a professional setting someone might not even think of that. I give tremendous value and respect to people who work
professionally with cancer patients, but they may not have had cancer.”
Cancer Connections of San Luis Obispo County can be reached at 235-2997 or http://cancerconnectionsslo.org.
March 4, 2009 Volume: 23, Issue: 31
Survivors who care
BY BRIDGET VELTRI