The Cancer Relaxation Group sessions start with shedding shoes for soft knit slippers. Participants and their support persons and volunteers sit quietly and talk, if they want to, about how the past week has gone and what they hope to receive from the session.
I am here to write about the group. While, as one person has pointed out, a diagnosis of cancer is not such a terrible thing as it once was but it still changes a person’s life, at least during treatment.
The goal of the group is to let people learn how to take time for themselves and relax while they cope with what is going on with and around them. Quiet music and subdued lighting set the scene for a short, private meditation while seated, then participants move to lie on the mats.
“Let yourself sink into the mat,” says facilitator Colleen McEachran. I do. While I can’t imagine what it would be like to hear a diagnosis of cancer, I have just had unexpected and life-changing news and badly need the stress reduction. The timing could not be better for me.
I adjust my head on the pillow so the elastic on my ponytail is not bothering me and one of the volunteers gently tucks a pretty afghan around me. That in itself is calming — it’s been a long time since anyone tucked me in. It feels safe.
McEachran, who has a lovely voice, starts the guided meditation while the volunteers, one at the head and one at the feet, start the soothing touch. People who do not want to be touched at either head or feet can say so and the touch will be done a few inches above the body or they can choose to follow only the meditation.
The meditation, aided by the soothing touch on head, neck, shoulders, lower legs and feet, leads participants to deep relaxation. The tension (was I really that tense?) slides away.
It is surprisingly easy to follow the directions to floating on a cloud. The cloud is whatever you want it to be, warm and cosy or cool and refreshing.
“You can look down now, feeling fully supported and comfortable,” says McEachran. “Choose where you are floating, maybe it is over fields, lakes and rivers. Maybe it is along the shore of the ocean. You might see your home. You might see places far away. It is all pleasing and enjoyable and calm.”
It really is.
I float back in time to where I grew up, to see my parents, and places I have visited, then over my present home, noticing that the garden needs work done, to where my grandchildren and all the other people I love live and then to places I would like to go someday, as I imagine them to be.
McEachran brings us back from the cloud to the mat, to the room slowly and gently. I can’t believe it has been about 45 minutes. It seemed like about 10. I don’t want to get up and back to the world, at least not just yet. Each of the other participants must have had their own special journeys because they also move somewhat reluctantly back to the present.
We all sit down again and those who want to make their comments about the experience. The volunteers who do the soothing touch and set up the mats and pillows and clean up the room say they are pleased to be able to provide this time of tranquility for others.
“I feel that helping people learn to relax is so important,” said volunteer Linda Kennedy, later. “I try to get to the group every week if I’m here. I think as a society we do not learn how to consciously relax and are inclined to push, push ourselves and not take time out just to be. This is also a time for me to slow down and relax. I get a gift as I give a gift.
“I think it provides people with a sense that they are not alone in their fight, their fear and anxiety and that helps them keep going.”
Before leaving, each person takes a card with a word or phrase on it and is asked to think about how that might apply to their personal situation. This is completely private but most people do say that their card is something they need to think about. I know mine is. It is about something I have never even thought is necessary now but it will help me to take this into account.
The session is simple and effective. There is room for more participants and a need for more volunteers.
The Cancer Relaxation Group is a program of Interior Health and is offered to anyone who has a cancer diagnosis, is having treatment or is in recovery and/or their support persons. The group meets Thursdays at The People Place from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 250-542-6373.