By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
As a mother of two children who had to deal with cancer at ages 22 months and six months respectively, Carisa McCarty knows a great deal about fear.
Two of McCarty’s children Chase, now six, and Xander, now four, were diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, an uncommon malignant liver cancer occurring in infants and children. McCarty’s struggles began with Chase’s diagnosis in June 2008 while Xander’s would follow soon after in February 2009.
“There are so many fears you have when you get news like this,” McCarty said. “We had people to talk to whereas a lot of people don’t. That sharing was so important. Even if you have support, having that place to put your fears is huge.”
Today both are healthy, typically Canadian children, staying active and playing hockey. However, McCarty’s experiences have made her the perfect spokesperson for the Canadian Cancer Society’s newly launched initiative to track, identify, and help find support for the fears cancer victims and their families face on a daily basis.
The Fearless Project is a website (www.thefearlessproject.ca) created by the cancer society to give people a place to share their fears related to cancer. Once their fear is entered, participants will be directed to information on how to help cope with, manage and potentially overcome these fears.
They will also be able to see the fears expressed by others, which may help to reduce a sense of isolation.
It is an initiative that McCarty said she fully supports.
“I think it is an awesome idea. I think it is something they haven’t thought about, but neither has anyone else,” McCarty said. “Through the Fearless Project I think they (the society) will get comments and concerns they probably wouldn’t be able to get any other way. And hopefully, we will be able to use that information for the better of everyone.”
Laura Wall certainly hopes so. Wall, director Canadian Cancer Society southwestern region, said she expects the Fearless Project to serve as a beginning for many conservations centered on cancer.
“I think it’s about creating a vehicle for people to identify their fears with regards to cancer and then to start, or continue, the conversation to help them better to understand or find the help they need,” Wall said. “It is a whole myriad of things. It is a way for us to get people to think about, deal with, talk about cancer.”
A recent survey by Ipsos-Reid showed that 70 percent of Ontarians fear cancer ahead of numerous other diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. The Ipsos Reid poll was conducted from Oct. 22-26 and sampled 1,017 Ontarians.
Wall said the Fearless Project website will people a place to anonymously share their fears and then get back information that that relates to those fears.
“We got a lot of information (from the poll). But this website is a way we can also look at, and understand, what those common fears are, where the gaps are, so we can better tailor our programs and service,” Wall said. “We think it will give us some really good insight into what those gaps are and how they might be addressed.”
Launched at the beginning of November, Wall said the website has already had 12,000 fears entered.
For McCarty — whose first son, Liam, has never had cancer — there were more fears than she knew what to do with around the diagnoses and treatment of her other children. Chase was 22 months old when he began treatment. That treatment wrapped up on Christmas Eve in 2008. Almost two months to the day, Xander was diagnosed with the same affliction.
“I said it wasn’t possible, but then you get into that mode; you are going to do whatever you have to and nothing else matters,” McCarty said. “But it was total freak-out mode. You are on the edge of a cliff not knowing what comes next.”
Had the Fearless Project existed back then, McCarty said there would be many fears for her to confront. Among them, the fear Liam would face his own diagnosis, but also there are the more day-to-day questions of just knowing how you are going to pay the bills and even get the kids to soccer practice.
“The other fear was that your normal had to change. It sounds silly, but how do I get Liam to soccer practice when I have to be at the hospital for chemo?” McCarty said. “Those issues sound silly, but at the time they were huge. I didn’t know how I was going to balance everything. There are so many things to think about.”
Wall agreed, adding that confronting one’s fears around cancer can make a big difference in how the disease is fought. Sometimes the fear, Wall said, prevents people from getting access to information or even getting a diagnosis early enough to make a difference.
“Our vision is of a world where no Canadians fear cancer. So this is a really important way to hit that head on. It opens up the conversation about what that fear means,” Wall said. “There are just so many benefits when you don’t have as much fear. And when you don’t, you are likely to have more hope.”
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