A love letter to Wellspring Calgary
By Trudy Boyle
The year Wellspring Calgary opened its doors, I opened my heart to all things Wellspring. The year was 2007 and I knew beyond any doubt, that my destiny was tied to this community forevermore.
Following my interview for the position of Program Manager/Director, I turned, and asked on my way out, what was the most important quality for this job?
I received a one word reply – Heart.
Heart! I knew at once that this would be my lifelong work. I could give myself wholeheartedly. When the call came inviting me to accept the position, I leapt for joy to have the honour of becoming part of the Wellspring team.
It’s impossible to explain what Wellspring means to me. How do you articulate a love and gratefulness beyond words? Wellspring transformed my life. It was a calling, a vocation, and a reason to get up smiling every single morning, no matter the weather.
It is a privilege, beyond measure to be a part of an organization that devotes itself to anyone impacted by cancer – those who have cancer and those who love and care for them. I love Wellspring’s vision, to ensure no one has to face cancer alone.
In those early days and up to the present moment, the entire Wellspring team – volunteers, Board, facilitators, and staff, established the irrevocable norms of hospitality, confidentiality, compassion, and health-giving programs that foster the opportunities to live fully, even with a devastating illness.
From the art studio to the mountain peaks, Wellspring programs offer creativity, exercise, mindfulness, and playfulness. There is education, financial guidance, a Speaker Series, music, birdwatching, and a suite of health enhancing lifestyle programs including yoga and tai chi. All this to inform, encourage and sustain each one who comes through the door.
All for free!
Cancer Comes Knocking
My plan was to keep working at Wellspring for as long as I could. I assumed that might be well into my 80s. To my shock and dismay, like it is for so many, in 2008, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. The call came at noon on a Friday at Wellspring. My heart pounded like a jackhammer as I took in the news. I could not understand why no one stopped and asked where the hammering was coming from. I could hardly hear my doctor through the noise.
Things happened fast as I transitioned overnight to a person who has cancer. My medical team was beyond wonderful, and I am still here 14 years later thanks to their skills, vigilance, and compassion; along with the unending support of all the incredible people and resources at Wellspring Calgary. There are no words powerful enough to express my boundless love and gratitude.
Gently Forward with New Insight
I continued to co-facilitate with John Stephure, (one of Wellspring’s co-founders and also a cancer survivor) a program we developed and were devoted to, called Living Well with Illness. My cancer diagnosis and treatment, however, forced me to experience, in a significant way, the brutal reality of this illness and not just the theory.
I was not just helping others live well with illness; now, I too was learning to live with illness.
When I returned to the work and people I loved, I was not the same old me. I came back with a deep understanding, right into my bones, that time is precious. It was clear that I needed to think about how I would best live in a way that honours the time I have. Eighteen months after that return to work I asked myself this question:
What would I most regret not having done if I had two years to live?
The answer, almost simultaneously with the question, leapt from my chest: I would most regret not getting to know my two youngest grandchildren who live in Ottawa. When faced with two important competing purposes, I made a heart-wrenching and bittersweet decision to move to Ottawa.
Here I am in Ottawa, for 11 years now. That youngest grandchild was 11 months old when I arrived in the springtime of 2011. Indeed I have had the joy of getting to know my amazing grandchildren. And now I am also back at Wellspring – every week, for the last two years. Thanks to Zoom, I get to spend an hour each Friday with our amazingly wonderful Wellspring Calgary members.
I think about this because as unwelcome as COVID-19 was, the unexpected gift to members and facilitators is that we could meet, and geography and weather were no longer obstacles. I went from coming to Calgary twice a year to facilitate a weekend retreat, to the joy of showing up every week to greet members in our beautiful Wellspring Zoom space. Many members also appreciate this ongoing convenience even though they miss being together in person.
I give a deep bow to Wellspring for transitioning so quickly to this model and for keeping this online community available for members.
It makes me think of my cancer diagnosis. I don’t wish this on anyone! And still, for those like me, and perhaps you who are reading this, there have been gifts that emerged due to cancer. Wellspring Calgary itself was founded by three people who did not want others to go through this illness alone, like they did.
Many people have used their cancer diagnosis to reevaluate their life, and some made use of all the learning opportunities at Wellspring to create lifetime passions or a change of career.
Dr. Art Frank from the University of Calgary continues to remind and inspire me with these words: “The ill and impaired may, in the sense of fulfilling life, be far more free than healthy people. The healthy require health as an affirmation that their will is still effective, and they must continually prove this effectiveness. The ill accept their vulnerability as an affirmation that the world is perfect without any exercise of their will, and this acceptance is their freedom…we are free only when we no longer require health, however much we may prefer it.”
Wellspring Calgary is a model for fostering, salutogenesis, which means the creation of health – the causes of health as opposed to the causes of disease. It takes the positive, not the negative approach to create the conditions for people to be healthy and helps excellent medicine do an even better job.
My grandson recently asked if I might still be doing webinars for Wellspring Calgary at the age of 90. Before I could answer, he looked me in the eye and said, “I hope so, Nana.”
I hope so too. My debt of love and gratitude to all things at Wellspring Calgary, especially our members, will be to my last breath.