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Local resident honoured by Cancer Society

Delila Chenery, a lung cancer survivor, has volunteered with the CancerConnection program for seven years.
Cache Creek resident Delila Chenery (second from l) received the Canadian Cancer Society’s Medal of Courage at a ceremony in Vancouver last month. Also pictured (from l): Sheila Craigie

Cache Creek resident, and CancerConnection volunteer, Delila Chenery has been selected to receive the Canadian Cancer Society’s most prestigious volunteer award, the Medal of Courage.

Chenery, who moved to Cache Creek with her husband Helmut in August 2015, is a lung cancer survivor who has been volunteering with the CancerConnection program for seven years. The program connects cancer survivors with those who have just been diagnosed with cancer or are undergoing cancer treatment, allowing them to speak with someone who has been through what they are experiencing.

Chenery says that when she was diagnosed with lung cancer she was put in touch with the CancerConnection service. “I had great service. The lady I spoke with didn’t just sympathize, she empathized. It was nice to have a chance to speak with someone who’d been through it. It gave me hope, since the survival rate for lung cancer is very low.”

Sheila Craigie, the CancerConnection coordinator for BC/Yukon and Alberta/NWT, says that people are referred to the telephone-based program by medical staff, or get in touch personally. Callers are matched as closely as possible with cancer survivors whose experiences reflect what the caller is going through.

“It’s quite different to talk with someone who’s been through it, as opposed to family and friends,” says Craigie. “It brings a different level to it when someone knows about it firsthand.”

There are about 150 people providing the service province-wide, and Craigie notes that while volunteers such as Chenery do not give medical advice, they are able to listen and speak from personal experience. “It makes such a difference to people who use the program. You often hear people say it really turned things around for them.”

Chenery echoes this sentiment. “People are dealing with a lot of fear. I get them right after their diagnosis, when they’ve just started treatment or are about to start. I call them on a regular basis and can talk to them about their treatment and side effects.

“The people who get connected with me are people who are going through the same treatment as me. The program tries to match people very closely with the type of cancer and treatment they have.”

She says that some people just want to talk to a survivor who’s been through it. “You let them know what you did, how you dealt with it. It’s mostly about talking to them, giving them feedback, letting them make up their own minds. If I’m not the right person, then I’ll direct them to where they can get help and support. I’m kind of an info centre.”

Chenery says she gets frustrated when people say that only 23 per cent of money donated to the Canadian Cancer Society goes to research. “There’s a lot more to cancer then just research. The treatment of cancer is a huge business.”

The press release accompanying news of Chenery’s Medal of Courage presentation states that she has “demonstrated exceptional courage in [her] battle with cancer, and in doing so has served as a role model to others. Serving 57 clients in the seven years she has been a volunteer, Delila works with clients with lung cancer, providing them with support over the phone, often until the end of their lives.”

Ashcroft’s Marjorie McLean, who has known Chenery for more than 30 years, says her friend has been volunteering for different organizations since she was 18 years old. “She’s a very giving, warm person, and a very happy person. She gives that to other people.

“She didn’t even want to be recognized [by the Canadian Cancer Society]. She doesn’t think that what she does is exceptional; she thinks that the people she’s helping should be recognized for what they’re going through.”

Chenery handles three or four connections at a time, and admits that “It can be hard on you. You talk to someone a couple of times a week, and build up a connection with them, in more ways than just being an information bureau. It can be demanding. When I go through a tough time I’ll tell [CancerConnection staff] that I need to back off, and they’re very understanding.”

Although she is originally from the prairies, and more recently Abbotsford, Chenery says that she’s glad to have moved to Cache Creek. “I just love it here, and have always felt right at home here. I love the heat and the wide open spaces. As soon as I get north of Spences Bridge I feel like I’m home.”

She adds that she will continue her work with the CancerConnection program. “I’ll keep doing it as long as it’s feasible for me. I want to pass this on to people. It’s necessary for them to have a source of information.”