Overcoming the silence
Understanding the loneliness of living with breast cancer

Tara Kearsey
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 12/00) - The shock and emotional trauma that accompanies a breast cancer diagnosis was experienced by 200 local health professionals and residents last week.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Society-sponsored play Handle With Care was performed by six Ontario actors at the Stanton Regional Hospital and Northern United Place on April 3 and 4 during its Canada-wide tour.

The play was also broadcast to nursing stations in Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Inuvik via the Stanton Regional Hospital's Telehealth system.

Based on actual interviews conducted with breast cancer patients and oncologists at Toronto's Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, Handle With Care is a real-life simulation of how a patient reacts, thinks and feels upon diagnosis with the incurable disease.

During one scene, a patient who had just been informed she has breast cancer visibly expressed extreme grief and wondered how she could ever learn to cope with her illness. She worried about how it would affect her children and other family members more than herself.

"(The play) is very profound because she has many voices that go on in her head ... it's something that for somebody who has not gone through this, they don't really have an awareness of what happens to someone when they are given this type of diagnosis," said Ruby Trudel, a member of the NWT Breast Health/Breast Cancer Action Group, who was very moved by the performance.

For her, the situations portrayed in Handle With Care hit very close to home.

Trudel is a breast cancer survivor who recently was faced with the same feelings of helplessness that all cancer victims experience.

"Those of us who are breast cancer survivors, we identify with (the situation), we understand it, we know that it's so difficult to explain to anybody - this play does that so beautifully," said Trudel.

Judy Williams also praised the play's realistic attributes. Also a breast cancer survivor and president of the NWT Breast Health/Breast Cancer Action Group, Williams admits she, too, found that others didn't understand what she was going through. Since the play had such an overwhelming turnout, Williams believes that women in the community who are living with breast cancer will now receive better support from those in the community.

"Everyone wants to do something, they want to be helpful, they just don't know how to approach it or they are afraid they will say something wrong, so I think it was very helpful in that respect," said Williams.