Cynthia Levagood: discovering strength in community
Learning to let go
This past March, Cynthia Levagood was asked to speak to a group of participants and volunteers at the Lethbridge Relay for Life – an annual cancer support fundraiser spearheaded by the Canadian Cancer Society. After sharing her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2022, Cynthia was applauded and presented with a gift… a t-shirt bearing the word ‘survivor’ on it.
“I had just finished my 20th round of radiation that week and when I sat back down in my seat and looked down at that word on the t-shirt, I thought… I can’t wear this; I’m a patient not a survivor,” said Cynthia.
The person next to her must have read her mind, because she leaned in and told Cynthia, “Don’t worry, you’ll get there.”
Cynthia’s cancer odyssey began eight months prior when a mammogram revealed an abnormality, leading to an ultrasound, followed by a biopsy.
When Cynthia was told she had breast cancer, her life was instantly upended.
“Cancer was absolutely lifechanging. I had to learn patience. I have never had to be so patient in my life. You wait for tests; you wait for results; you wait for surgeries,” she said.
That summer, facing two surgeries and 20 rounds of radiation, Cynthia’s work and life goals were put on hold. Her primary job was to figure out how to wait, let go, and trust.
“I’ll tell you; I have never been good at letting go, but with cancer you really have no choice. I told myself to let the professionals do their job; follow their instructions; take the dog for a walk; breathe,” she said.
Alone but not alone
Cynthia had just moved to Lethbridge from Vancouver when the pandemic hit, forcing everyone into isolation. As a newcomer to Alberta, and a single person with no kids, she had not yet cultivated a network of friends, when she was diagnosed in the summer of 2022.
“I have a sister in Vancouver who supported me with regular calls and texts, and a cousin in Taber I spoke with often, but other than that I really didn’t have much community to lean on close to home,” she said.
Luckily, while attending appointments and treatment at the Lethbridge Cancer Centre, she was introduced to Wellspring.
“Everywhere I looked, there were Wellspring pamphlets and posters with the words ‘no one has to face cancer alone’,” she said. “This caught my attention because I really did feel quite alone at that time.”
The Wellspring connection
Cynthia describes joining Wellspring as a leap of faith.
“Once I made this connection, there was this wonderful feeling of not being alone,” she said.
Cynthia first joined the Lethbridge ‘Go-Getters’ – a coffee and walking group formed when cancer patients met at a Wellspring information session in 2020. Then in the spring when health restrictions eased and Wellspring began offering its in-person Cancer Connect program, Cynthia joined this monthly coffee and information program as well, and her community of support in Lethbridge swelled.
“At Cancer Connect there are all kinds of people… people in recovery, patients with cancers I’ve never heard of, people who call themselves survivors, and caregivers. We are not the same but we have all been affected by cancer. We all have good days and bad days and we can talk to each other about it. We can comfort each other. Any connection with other people is so meaningful. It’s a blessing,” she said.
This June, just one week shy of the year anniversary of her diagnosis, Cynthia went in for a follow up appointment with her oncologist. “I was preparing for the worst but praying for the best,” she said, mentioning a quote that inspired her mindset.
“The doctor said they can’t say it’s 100 per cent gone, but they don’t see anything – they are 95 per cent sure I am in the clear,” she said, pausing to let it sink in. “I went into what I call ‘happy shock.’ I didn’t drive, I just sat in my car for 20 minutes after the appointment. It felt like for the first time in a year, I was able to breathe fully and I stopped feeling fearful.”
Cynthia says she feels overwhelming gratitude for those who have taken care of her for the past year – mentioning her oncologist, the surgeons, radiation techs, as well as her vitally important cancer support community born out of Wellspring.
“My doctor said to me, ‘you’ve been a cancer patient for the past year – now it’s time to wrap your head around being a cancer survivor.’ He’s right. And I know I’ve changed. I have always been a grateful, happy person, now I am super grateful for every day, life, everything!” she said, adding, “This week I took out my t-shirt that says ‘survivor.’ I can wear it now that it feels like it fits.”
What is Cancer Connect?
Cancer Connect is an informal gathering over coffee, tea and snacks, open to any adult individuals living with cancer and their caregivers or support person offered in Red Deer and Lethbridge. These monthly gatherings offer a safe space to connect with others on a similar path and learn strategies for supporting the mind, body and spirit.