How One Family Reached Out for Help to Face Cancer Together

By Cancer Foundation on December 6 / 2016

[Cancer, Cancer Coaching, Caregivers, Uncategorized]Comments

The Savoy family never expected a cancer diagnosis to become part of their lives, and to change everything so suddenly. But when Peter, a husband and father in the Ottawa community became ill, it had an equally devastating impact on his entire family.

Here is their story, and how they learned to cope with cancer together.



It’s hard to sit through an entire class these days. I can’t concentrate. All I keep thinking about is my dad. He and I are super close and now…

He’s in the hospital fighting cancer. We’re not sure when he’s coming home.

There’s nobody I can talk to about my feelings. My parents have enough going on. I don’t want them worrying about me too. My friends are great, and they try, but they are teenagers. They can’t possibly understand what I’m going through.

And so I shut down. I can’t wait to go to bed at night and escape from everything. 

That’s what it was like for me when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I had never felt so lost or alone. It was like falling into a pit.

Finally, I told my mom I had to talk to someone. Luckily, she spoke with her Cancer Coach at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. That’s how she learned about the CLIMB (Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery) group coaching program. It was exactly what I needed.


Looking back, it’s incredible how something as devastating as cancer can start with a simple backache. My husband’s pain could have been caused by anything and we weren’t concerned at first. That quickly changed when his legs started to fail.

Eventually, he couldn’t stand at all. His legs wouldn’t hold him. After a number of trips to the doctor and the emergency room an MRI confirmed what we most feared. My husband Peter had cancer. The tumors had started in his abdomen, spread up his spine and were putting pressure on his spinal cord. Peter was ultimately diagnosed with myxoid / round cell liposarcoma – a rare form of cancer that arises in fat cells in deep soft tissue. He needed surgery to relieve the pressure on his spine and was admitted immediately. And I prepared myself to tell our kids.



All I wanted to do was get my three children home as quickly as possible. I had devastating news and I didn’t want to tell them in the car.

But my kids knew something was wrong. They heard it in my voice. My 13-year-old daughter, Elizabeth turned her head to look out the window. She didn’t want me to see her cry. “Do I need to worry?” she asked.

I didn’t have the heart to answer her. But, yes. The truth is we all had reason to worry.

We did get home eventually. We went into the house and sat down together. And as gently as I could I told them: Dad has cancer. He’s in the hospital and I don’t know when he is coming home.

Cancer changed everything in our lives. And it did it in an instant. Of course, I was scared for my husband but I was concerned about our kids too. They were young and this was so sudden and dramatic. It was complete upheaval! Because it didn’t feel like only Peter was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer had entered our home and hit all of us. How would they handle it?

Luckily, thanks to donors of the Cancer Foundation I didn’t have to support Peter and our children on my own. I, and many other parents just like me, have a place to turn to right in our community.

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When Peter started treatment I had many preconceived ideas about chemotherapy. I wanted to know how to feed and take care of him, and I was concerned about my kids. My Cancer Coach listened to my concerns and goals and then introduced me to some great nutritional websites and resources on helping kids cope with cancer.

In the weeks that followed we had overwhelming support from friends, family and colleagues as we all tried to cope with our new reality. I shuttled between home and hospital, tried to keep life as normal as possible under the circumstances, and I watched my children. As the days passed Elizabeth started to struggle. Her anxiety grew and my usually outgoing daughter retreated. She didn’t feel comfortable talking to her friends about how she was feeling and she didn’t want to burden me. She felt like she had to take care of everyone in the family.


Thankfully, Elizabeth eventually did come to me and said she needed to talk to someone. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of resources available for kids in this kind of situation, so I looked to the Cancer Foundation for help.

My Cancer Coach told me that Elizabeth could get the help she urgently needed right there at the Cancer Foundation. When she sent Elizabeth and I information about the CLIMB program my daughter took one look and said, “This is exactly what I need.”

Elizabeth signed up for the six-week program run by Cancer Coach Bonney and it brought the light back into her eyes. She bonded instantly with the other girls in her group; they discovered they weren’t alone in their journey and they learned coping skills that they can use to manage stress throughout their lives.

And it’s not just myself and Elizabeth that have been helped. It’s a huge relief for my husband Peter to know his family is doing okay and he can focus on fighting cancer. And seeing how much it helped her sister, my eight-year-old daughter, Julia, also attended the CLIMB program and was put in a group with kids her age. The CLIMB program gave both my girls a forum to deal with their emotions in a kid-appropriate way. It moved them to a safe place which helped our entire family.

After all, cancer doesn’t just touch the person who is diagnosed. It impacts the lives of husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, friends and colleagues. It wreaks havoc on the lives of children. That’s why your support is so very important.

BONNEY, a Cancer coach


I came to know the Savoys for the same reason I come to know many families in our community. Cancer had unexpectedly entered their lives, and it was quickly changing everything.

When you’re thirteen years old, what could be more terrifying than finding out your dad has cancer? As a parent, how do you find the right words to explain such fear and uncertainty to your kids? But this was the reality for Elizabeth and Martha Savoy, and so many others I meet as a Cancer Coach. There’s often just no way to be ready for the stress and emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis in the family.

Family members face a unique set of challenges when they’re looking after the needs of someone who has cancer; while they want to be there as much as possible for their loved one it can also be emotional and tiring. One person’s cancer journey can affect each person in their family differently, and so can the caregiver’s. If a parent has cancer a child often expresses concern for the other parent, because they are stretched between responsibilities and confronting their own difficult emotions all at once.

If Martha hadn’t been able to meet with her Cancer Coach, she would not have received valuable tools and information to help her whole family face cancer together. She would not have learned about the CLIMB program, which ended up being exactly what her daughter Elizabeth needed in order to understand and cope with her father’s diagnosis.

This is why your support for what we do at the Cancer Foundation has the power to change lives and help entire families become stronger together.

Your gift today will help caregivers like Martha receive the information they need to care for themselves and their families while they support a loved one with cancer. It will help children like Elizabeth find an age-appropriate environment to express their worries and emotions. And it will give hope for new treatments and more quality time for families to spend together.

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