The compelling story behind Enliven Muskoka; Assisting the 1 in 2 living with cancer

Jackie Riley, Enliven Executive Director, holds artwork by Muskoka artist Roberta Twaddle which is set to be auctioned off at the Enliven Gala 2020 on Feb. 4.

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Agatha Farmer

Enliven means to give the breath of life or spirit.

The story of Enliven - Centre for Well-Being in Cancer holds a combination of hope and heartbreak. The roots began with Huntsville resident Joanne McLean who had a breast cancer diagnosis. In 2016 as she was going through her cancer journey McLean came to the realization that while she was being supported by family and many friends she still felt alone. The thought of a place where she could be in the company of people who could thoroughly relate to her circumstances and that of her care takers birthed the idea of Enliven.

She discussed the premise of the organization with her friend Allie Chisholm-Smith. On the Enliven website, Chisholm-Smith shares the story.

"Joanne and I sat in her sunroom one day making sense of the world, as we so often did together, when she turned to me and asked 'would you be interested in forming an organization to help people in Muskoka who are dealing with cancer?' I would jump at any invitation to work with Joanne but this one had me right away.  Joanne was an unparalleled soul mate for me.  She effortlessly guided us all, rallied us to see that we could play a part in reducing the social isolation that comes with this disease.  She herself tirelessly researched options for her own breast cancer, which was metastatic into her liver.  She was strong, she was vulnerable and disarmingly honest about her own journey, her fears and her struggles."

Joanne McLean's vision was to destigmatize and normalize the journey of those who live with the disease and those who care for them. The heartbreak of the story comes with McLean's death in 2018 when she lost her battle with the disease, just one year following formally co-founding the organization she envisioned.

Enliven is engulfed in McLean's legacy and over two short years has been gaining speed in growth and program development. Jackie Riley, Executive Director, said Enliven has had "two rock solid years" in the community.

Enliven offers entirely free services and programs which support people living with cancer to navigate their journey in positive and productive ways, reducing the social isolation that comes with a cancer diagnosis. The organization also offers services for caregivers as well as healthcare practitioners "to recreate, replenish, and engage in dialogue to ensure cohesive and aligned services in our community."

Programming at the centre includes restorative yoga, a walking club, a writing club, as well as free monthly workshops and events. Riley says that all these activities are to counter balance the stress of daily living with cancer and to connect cancer patients together. During the span of a month approximately 100 people are in direct contact with Enliven's services.

"We are still wired for connection even if we have cancer ... reduce the stigma, reduce the isolation and find out that there are other people just like you and probably on your road, it's probably someone that lives within 2 km of you because it's 1 in 2 of us. That is literally half of us, so every time you have a conversation with another person just assume that one of you in your lifetime will have a cancer experience," Riley said.

Riley admits that her first order of business to continue growing Enliven is to create or find streams of revenue and benefactors. The organization is funded via donations only and is currently in the application process of obtaining their charitable status.

"My goal for 2020 is how to make this organization more sustainable and so this year we have organized two main fundraisers to help with that," she said.

You can support Enliven in the month of February by registering for the "Jo"-Athlon, a one day event on Feb. 2 from 11:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Camp Tawingo. Support the organization while enjoying winter activities such as cross-country skiing and snowman building on beautiful Lake Vernon. Click here for information and to register.

While on Feb. 4 in recognition of World Cancer Day Enliven will be hosting Gala 2020. The fundraiser will be held at Canvas Brewery in Huntsville, the evening will feature entertainment by Christina Hutt, a live and silent auction with works donated by various artists from across Muskoka as well as delicious food. For more information or to purchase tickets click here. For a reasonable $50 per ticket grab your black dress, go solo or invite a date and know that you're making a difference right here in your own Muskoka community for people living with cancer.

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