New Brunswick

Breast cancer survivors uncertain of funding for retreat weekend

Members of the New Brunswick Breast Cancer Network are concerned they may not raise enough money to continue their annual retreat weekend in Rothesay or to bring back a series of workshops around the province because of a cut in funding from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Grants have been cut substantially since drop in donations and merging of cancer charities

Members of the New Brunswick Breast Cancer Network board gathered in November for an annual retreat weekend. (Submitted by Linda Saulnier)

Breast cancer survivors in New Brunswick have one more thing to worry about these days.

An event they've relied on for more than 20 years for education and support is at risk because of a lack of funding.

The New Brunswick Breast Cancer Network normally holds an annual retreat on the first weekend of November at the Villa Madonna Retreat House in Rothesay. This year, the group isn't sure where it will get the money to pay for it.

The retreat is a chance to get practical advice for staying healthy and for companionship with others who are also living with breast cancer, said network president Linda Saulnier.

Grateful to talk

"It's so good to talk to someone that's going through the same as what you're going through."

"Family and friends are wonderful," said Saulnier. "They love you and they care for you and so on. But … a year or two down the road … they don't really know, realize what's going on inside.

"When anything goes wrong with you, that's the first thing you think: 'Oh my God, I must have' — You know, it's always there."

The retreat is for people at all stages of the disease, said Saulnier.

The names of women who have lost their battle with cancer are displayed at the annual retreat, says Linda Saulnier, and an emotional memorial service is held. (Submitted by Linda Saulnier)

"We've had a lot of girls that are in the fourth stage. Some are just newly diagnosed. Some haven't started treatment yet."

"Everybody is a survivor once you've been diagnosed. But you can go 20 years, you can go 13 years, you can go five years and it can reoccur. It's not cured. It's just in remission."

Saulnier said the veterans of the retreat weekend are always eager to give a warm welcome to the recently diagnosed.

"They're scared to death, you know. They don't know what to expect, what's down the road. And when they see somebody that's five, six, 10 years in remission, it's good."

60 women from around province

The network also accepts women with ovarian, uterine and even lung cancer, she said.

About 60 people attended the last retreat, coming from Fredericton, Woodstock, Moncton, Shediac and Sackville, as well as Saint John. Usually there are women from Miramichi, as well, said Saulnier.

"We have the ones that come faithfully, that come every year. … When they register they always say, 'If there's a new one and you need the spot then, you know, give it to them,' because what you benefit from this retreat is just awesome."

Each year has a different theme and different guest speakers.

A chance to network

Last year's theme was "That's What Friends Are For," and there were four presentations — a personal trainer talked about the importance of exercise, one talk was on lymphedema, one talk was by a physiotherapist and the fourth was about mind care.

The group tries not to over-schedule the weekend, said Saulnier, in order to give the women a chance to informally network with each other.

In the past, the group that puts on the retreat has received grants as large as $28,000, allowing it to also put on one-day workshops in several other locations around the province, including Miramichi, Edmundston, Caraquet and Elsipogtog.

But that changed in recent years. 

Cancer Society lowers grant

Funding used to come from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

As donations dropped, that charity merged with the Canadian Cancer Society two years ago to save money.

The first year after the merger, the New Brunswick Breast Cancer Network received $5,000 from the Cancer Society for its retreat.

In 2018, it got $2,500.

That's a far cry from the $10,000 to $13,000 it takes to put on the retreat, Saulnier said.

The only business that responded to an appeal for donations was Cooke Aquaculture, she said, and the group made a bit more money by serving at a Knights of Columbus breakfast.

The registration fee, which had been $45, was increased to $50, then to $100 in 2018.

Members of the New Brunswick Breast Cancer Network board, from left, Allyson Morais, Karrie Cameron, Linda Saulnier, Janet Kyle and Jean Savoury. (Submitted by Linda Saulnier)

"Going forward is what we're very concerned about," said Saulnier.

This year, the network isn't expecting any funding from the Cancer Society at all.

A spokesperson for the Cancer Society said its budget for the coming year has not yet been released, but if money is available, groups will be able to apply in February and find out in mid-March what if anything they can expect.

Rosie Hales noted the society also provided $2,500 in 2018 to the New Brunswick Breast and Women's Cancer Partnership for a Well-Being Interaction Forum that took place in Dieppe in late October.

It responded to 484 inquiries from New Brunswickers with questions about things like side-effects, coping, how to support someone through a cancer diagnosis and prevention through its toll-free public information service, she said.

And it trained six New Brunswickers to run peer-support groups in their community.

Trying to raise money

The society also offers New Brunswickers a summer camp for children with cancer, travel allowances for eligible individuals with low incomes and free wigs and head wraps.

Members of the New Brunswick Breast Cancer Network say they are determined to raise the money to keep the retreat going, regardless of how much funding comes from the Cancer Society.

Saulnier said the group has already started approaching businesses and service clubs and hopes it doesn't have to ask participants to pay more than $50 each to register.

She said some network members have offered to cover the fees of others who would like to take part but can't afford it.