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Outside the lens of cancer

January 2, 2014
By: 
Amy Dove
Terri Wingham and Mark Halliday of Moonrider Productions, who made a documentary about A Fresh Chapter’s inaugural trip,  at the Taj Mahal in India.

Terri Wingham is a purveyor of purpose.

She creates opportunities for people to connect and inspire each other, to start a fresh chapter. She does this because she knows what it feels like to survive the worst and come out the other side searching for meaning.

Wingham, a Bachelor of Commerce alumna, is the founder of A Fresh Chapter Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to igniting a spark of purpose, possibility and connection among cancer survivors. She started by taking 12 individuals from across North America to India in 2013 to volunteer and experience life in a new way.

“I want to get people volunteering so they can step out of their own story and give back,” she says. That is where A Fresh Chapter offers something different. Traditional support groups focus on people’s experiences with cancer – that is their common ground. “Our structured activities and conversations are not about cancer. They are about expanding people’s stories outside of the lens of cancer.”

Wingham knew the experience would be powerful because it helped her. After going into remission in 2011, Wingham found she couldn’t slide back into her life before cancer. She decided to make a change. She quit her job, packed up her belongings and travelled to Cape Town, South Africa to volunteer (an adventure that later extended to other countries). It was there she remembered who she was – the Terri not defined by cancer.

It was amazing to see 12 other people experience that same revelation in their own ways in India, she says.

 

“When I came back I started thinking, what now? How do we better support people at home… people that maybe the leap of faith for them to go across the world is too much emotionally, financially,” Wingham says.

She launched the North American pilot program last fall as a result. Wingham partnered with the Garden School Foundation, a non-profit that maintains a garden at an inner city school in LA, and brought 10 cancer survivors together for two days to learn and live, together.

The idea is to invite people to do something new, with like-minded people who share their passions. The fact that they all had cancer is secondary, and people do talk about it, but it doesn’t become a defining identity for people, Wingham says. The results are stronger friendships and deeper understandings of who people are and the challenges they face.

The experiences in India and LA have galvanized Wingham in her purpose. A new group is preparing to go to India in March of this year, and Wingham is travelling to Tanzania and Morocco in February to research other volunteer opportunities. She already has a wait list of people who want to travel there, she says. Throughout it all, she is working on the business case which will allow her to approach established cancer agencies for potential partnerships throughout North America.

“The biggest things we need right now are people who are willing to spread the word and perhaps help us raise the funds,” she says, adding help from a grant writer wouldn’t hurt either. Balancing solid planning with the momentum of her idea is key.

“Even though it’s terrifying and it’s not quite sustainable yet, I can’t lose the momentum,” she says.

That is clear in focus and purpose those preparing to travel to India this year are already talking about.

“It’s incredible to hear from them the impact this has already made on them,” Wingham says. “They haven’t even left the country yet.”

Read an earlier story about Terri Wingham's work that focuses on her efforts leading up to the first trip to India.