By Guy Djandji

Francis Lapon is one of many caregivers who benefits from Hope & Cope’s services His role is particularly complicated because of the severity of his wife, Danièle’s condition, her frequent relapses, and the number of years that he has been caring for her.   Danièle is a five-time survivor of breast, colon, skin, uterine and kidney cancer.

Francis devotes himself to his care-giving role with remarkable courage and resilience, thereby relieving the strain on Danièle. He is proud of his wife, describing her as an “athletic super-survivor with a strong personality.”

The couple met in 2006 while participating in a Think Tank.   At the time, Danièle was already a cancer survivor. She returned to work in 2007, but in 2013, had two recurrences in the breast and the colon.  As a member of Hope & Cope’s Wellness Centre, Danièle participated in yoga classes which she remembers with great fondness as she found them to be very helpful. In 2016, her health deteriorated to the point where she had to go on disability. Last September, she relapsed again. This time, the diagnosis was kidney cancer, necessitating the removal of her kidney. It was then that Francis became her primary caregiver.

Being a primary caregiver to one’s wife whose very survival is at stake changes the dynamic of the relationship, notes Francis. “The first responsibility of the caregiver is to clarify his or her position within the relationship,” he explains. “Fortunately, we’ve both had relationship training, which allowed us to agree on our responsibilities to each other as individuals and as a couple.”

Nevertheless, the diagnosis of kidney cancer was a blow. Francis felt helpless, alone and isolated, and, as a result, communication with his wife became difficult. Thanks to a referral from a nurse, Francis reached out to Hinda Goodman, Hope & Cope’s Oncology Program Coordinator, who assessed that he would benefit from a volunteer peer mentor.

For the past several months, peer mentor Laura Girolami has been a great source of support for Francis. “This peer match exceeded my expectations,” confides Francis. “Laura and I really clicked. She created a safe space where I can vent and share in complete confidence.” This sense of trust coupled with the permission to express himself openly has been a lifesaver for Francis. “Before, I felt helpless. Thanks to Hope & Cope, I’ve found stability and hope.” With Laura’s support, he feels renewed confidence in his ability to help Danièle find the strength to “move out of the fog and into the light.”

While the pandemic certainly poses additional challenges, Francis feels well equipped to handle them. “We’ve been observing all safety measures,” Francis explains, noting that confinement has reinforced a sense of intimacy between him and Danièle.   He is grateful to Laura for her active listening skills, her empathy and for providing a safe space where he can discuss his fears.

“Hope & Cope has been such an important factor in our ability to cope with cancer. For Danièle, it was through yoga and for me, it’s through the peer support I continue to receive from Laura,” concludes Francis.