“Don’t beat yourself up about what you did or didn’t do because it is random.”
Wise words from breast cancer survivor Linda Hamilton, who delivered an inspiring testimonial Saturday during the biennial “Luncheon of Hope” at La Place Rendez-Vous.
Hamilton, who completed her treatments last October, stressed it’s important to be diligent with one’s breast health, but those diagnosed with cancer should not blame themselves.
“Cancer is random and you did not do anything wrong,” she stressed.
Hamilton admitted coming to terms with randomness is frightening.
“But it does liberate us from the tendency to blame ourselves for illness we did not cause,” she explained.
“It also ought to help us from judging others for their misfortune,” she added, noting that when most people first hear someone has cancer, the first thing out of their mouths is, “Did she smoke?”
Hamilton said she’s been a beneficiary of “much kindness and caring” during her journey and has acquired new friends.
And while she believes she never is truly “out of the woods” with cancer, she is doing what she can to live a healthier life, getting more exercise and eating better.
Hamilton said she is trying to get something positive from her experience. While she always has tried to help people, she’ll now try to do more.
“Engage fully in your life. It’s my plan, it’s my life,” she noted, adding she loves spending time with her great-grandchildren and plans to be around for a long time.
Hamilton lauded the Riverside Breast Health Program, Tamarack Lodge, and the cancer care community, in general, for their tremendous support.
She also tipped her hat to the Rainy River District Breast Health Network, of which she is a member.
“They’re my people. They’re your people,” she remarked. “We are all here to help anybody that has any trouble ever.
“I am 71 years old and they were there for me.”
Meanwhile, the network still is going strong after 22 years, said Elizabeth Leishman-Fortes, who is co-chair along with Shawn McCaig.
The Riverside Breast Health Program first was initiated in 1985 with the support of Dr. Audrey Johnstone as medical lead.
In 1987, the first mammography machine was purchased for La Verendrye Hospital here thanks to the support of the hospital auxiliary, Catholic Women’s League, and the Legion.
After only 18 months, 1,000 women were participating in the program.
Then in 1995, a group of ladies started the Rainy River District Breast Health Network with the goal to bring awareness to the district on breast health, as well as the prevention and detection of breast cancer.
Twenty-two years later, four of the original members of the network still sit on the committee–Eva Thornton, Sandy McKinnon, Rhoda Dickson, and Jan Gustafson.
Over the years, the network has supported many breast health awareness initiatives, with the most recent being an art therapy support group for women with cancer led by art therapist Lindsay Hamilton.
“I had the opportunity to attend a few of the first sessions and see Lindsay in action–it was absolutely incredible,” noted Leishman-Fortes.
“What she was able to draw out from the ladies was amazing.”
Leishman-Fortes also noted Jennifer Horton, owner of Curvy Chick on Scott Street, recently has made it possible for women to get mastectomy supplies and bras right here in Fort Frances.
“Women now no longer will need to travel to the city; they can see Jen locally,” she said.
“She’s been away for training this fall so keep watch for that.”
Leishman-Fortes added the network continues to receive support from the community, whether it be from local businesses such as Shoppers Drug Mart, which recently raised more than $1,300 for the network through its “Tree of Life” campaign, or sports teams such as the Atom ‘AA’ boys’ hockey team that recently held a bake sale and donated $615.
Other recent supporters of note include Pharmasave, Canada Safeway, La Place Rendez-Vous, and Riverside Health Care.
Saturday’s luncheon also featured a penny table and a “Quilt for the Cure” raffle.
Jane Gillon won the latter and now is the lucky owner of a quilt donated by the Cabin Country Quilt Guild and Sheryl Laverdure.
Each attendee also received a 2018 day planner, pen, and a pink dishcloth knitted by “Breast” friend June Keddie.
Over the years, Keddie has made 2,580 such dishcloths for the “Luncheon of Hope.”
The Riverside Breast Health Program runs every second Wednesday at La Verendrye Hospital.
Women are urged to make an appointment if they have any breast concerns, need an exam (or mammography and ultrasound if required), or if they just want to discuss when to start breast screening.
To make an appointment, call McCaig at 274-1900.