Written by Stu Boland, Co-Leader of the Alberta Support Group.
It was 1999 when a group of 12 skiers made their first trip to Chatter Creek, British Columbia for 3 days of back-country downhill skiing – a cat-skiing experience like no other. Living conditions were very rustic. Ski conditions were nothing short of exceptional!!
The trip was organized by Cam Fraser and some of his friends. Stu Boland was invited to join the group. Stu and Cam knew each other through a mutual friend. Stu, and Cam and his wife Jane, lived a few blocks apart in Southwest Calgary. The annual ski “adventure” to Chatter Creek continued for at least 3 years. Stu’s friendship with the Frasers grew.
Fast forward to the fall of 2004.
Stu was still living a few blocks from the Frasers. One day in early September Stu was out for a walk with his “best friends” – two Springer Spaniels – on a walking path behind the Fraser home. Jane was working in the yard. She said: how are you doing, Stu? Stu’s response was: not so good, I’ve just learned that I’ve got cancer – something called Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia. Jane’s response was: that is terrible news, Stu. Let me go get Cam and our dog Fritz and you guys can go for a walk together.
Within a few minutes Cam and Stu and the three dogs were on a walk – Stu sharing his story of symptoms and the diagnosis. And Cam, much to Stu’s dismay, shared that he had recently been diagnosed with the very same rare disease – WM. The friendship became even stronger.
It was in the Spring of 2005 that Stu began his first treatment. Cam was on a “watch and wait” program. Over the next few years, Cam and Jane, and Stu and his wife Nancy attended IWMF Ed Forums; initially in Seattle and then Las Vegas, San Diego and Tampa. Cam and Stu learned, amongst many other things, that there are real benefits to being part of a group that perhaps faced similar situations. By meeting and talking with Support Group Leaders from around the world it became clear that something needed to be started in Calgary. After numerous discussions, including with the Toronto WM Support Group Leader and the Chair of the WM Canada Foundation, Arlene Hinchcliffe, Cam and Stu invited a few patients and caregivers to a meeting in the basement of the Fraser home. That was in 2012.
Fast forward to October 2021. Cam has been treated with Bendamustine and Rituximab and is doing very well. Stu has been treated a few times and it is 6 years since a very successful, so far, stem cell transplant. All is good. The small handful of folks that first met in the Fraser basement grew to approximately two dozen Calgary area people. Because of COVID, we are now a Zoom group from throughout the province, a group of about 40 people. Cam and Stu, along with Sari Martin, are the Support Group Leaders. Cam, as of May 2021, is also the Chair of the WM Foundation of Canada. Stu is a Trustee of the WMFC. The Alberta group will host its second Ed Forum, COVID be willing, on April 23, 2022 in Calgary. There is absolutely no doubt that being part of a group that supports each other is extremely rewarding.
It is very interesting and co-incidental that 2 friends, living in the same neighbourhood, were diagnosed with the same rare disease. Cam and Stu are pleased and proud of the fact that they have been able to grow the Alberta group, that they actively participate in the WMFC and that they have been able to find comfort for themselves and numerous others.