Brain cancer diagnosis prompts need for Chilliwack support group

Chilliwack woman hoping to bring people together in a casual way to discuss shared experiences with cancer

Paula Martens has created a cancer support group. The first meeting is set for Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. at Decades Coffee House.

Paula Martens has created a cancer support group. The first meeting is set for Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. at Decades Coffee House.

When Paula Martens was diagnosed with brain cancer, she went through the full range of emotions.

“I have gone through grief, and loss and anger,” she says. “I was irate, on so many levels.”

But eventually the dark clouds parted, and she began to surrender to her new reality. Eventually, she learned to accept her diagnosis.

Today, six years later, she’s even learned to celebrate it.

“What a gift,” she says, smiling over a cup of tea at Decades Coffee Club. “I’m proof that you can get through it.”

She began having serious migraines in late 2008. and was sent for a CT scan to be followed almost with an MRI. The results determined she had developed astrocytoma, and she was booked for surgery, where most of the tumour was removed. Eventually, she also agreed to follow up treatments, and her follow up scans have shown no new growth.

Martens is now 38 and has survived cancer — “so far,” she points out.

“I feel like I’ve graduated from cancer university,” she says, laughing.

And now she’s built up the inner strength and determination to seek out others affected by cancer. She is starting up a cancer support group and is opening the door to anyone affected by the disease, whether they are going through treatment right now, or have been cancer free for many years. Her support group is open to family, friends, caregivers, anyone who feels open to joining in.

“I feel like I’m a cheerleader,” she said. “I have brain cancer and I’m still here, you can do this.”

She said it’s important to “not give too much power” to cancer, and she knows not everybody is in a place to join a support group.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do this even two years ago,” she says, but she’s had six years post-surgery now to come to terms with cancer, and to gain her new, positive perspective.

“I know others can find peace in this,” she says. “And by peace that doesn’t mean everything is wonderful all the time but that you can find moments of peace.”

And she doesn’t shy away from the discussion of death.

“Eventually you look at death. You don’t get to win,” she says. “I have a zero per cent chance of survival.”

So she’s decided to make the best of it.

And Martens is well-equipped to be facilitating a support group, with several years as a trained drug and alcohol counsellor under her belt. She earned that training after cleaning up her own life, at the age of 23. But she says she’s not going to be counselling others. She just wants an informal place to gather and share common experiences.

“People want to be heard,” she said, and a support group can provide that outlet.

She had been attending a brain cancer support group in Vancouver, and enjoyed it, but is hoping to meet others, closer to home in Chilliwack.

Decades will be offering the meeting space in the Wellington Room, once a month.

The meetings will run from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on the first Wednesdays of each month, and there will be no fee to drop in. The first three meetings are set for Oct. 7, Nov. 4. and Dec. 2.

For more information or to connect with Martens directly, email chilliwackcancergroup@gmail.com.