Cancer support in the Jewish community

December 2022
Emily Jane Pascoe

In the summer of 2015, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in my early twenties, planning a trip to Europe, and just about to start graduate school. Her surgery was scheduled for three weeks after my university graduation and plans were already underway for a party. 

I sort of felt like Ben from The Graduate (1967) when he reluctantly dons the scuba suit gifted by his father, jumping into the pool to great fanfare. When Ben tries to climb out, his parents push him back into the water and all you can hear is his laboured breathing inside of the scuba suit as he sinks to the bottom. I could not anticipate the profound loneliness of the caregiving role that I was about to take on. I will always be grateful to a close friend who encouraged me to build a “small circle of trust” because she recognized that, as a caregiver, I would also need support. 

Everyone who has been touched by cancer has a story to tell. For many of us who belong to the Jewish community, we may be more comfortable sharing those stories with someone who understands where we are coming from. In a new partnership, L’Chaim Cancer Support Program (funded by the National Council of Jewish Women, Toronto) has teamed up with Wellspring Cancer Support Foundation to introduce a peer support program for patients and caregivers who are members of the Jewish community. 

Peer support volunteers are compassionate, resourceful, and trained in active listening skills that allow them to listen to your story without judgment. They understand the difficulty of sharing the cancer experience with friends and family as too often the people who love us are unable to listen because they want to offer reassurance and find quick solutions. The volunteer has been there; they know the shock of the initial diagnosis, the challenges of treatment, and the on-going stress and anxiety of having lived with cancer. They are familiar with the fear of surgery, the effects of cancer treatments, the anxiety of ongoing testing, all amidst family obligations. You can meet with the peer support volunteer over the phone or online, in a safe, confidential, and respectful environment. You can meet once or twice or as many times as you find helpful.

Wellspring is a national network that offers more than 40 programs for patients and caregivers, led by professionals and offered online free of charge. These programs include nutrition classes, personalized exercise programs for people in treatment and in recovery, online yoga, meditation, coping skills programs like relaxation and visualization, money matters for financial stressors, a children and parents program for families coping with cancer, the healing journey program, as well as an education series of Be Well Talks. 

Regardless of where you are in the cancer journey, whether you are supporting a loved one through treatment or if you are in recovery and just want to talk about what you have experienced, Wellspring can match you with a peer support volunteer. 

If you are a patient or a caregiver and are looking for support in the Jewish community, please contact Wellspring at or email them at If you are interested in becoming a peer support volunteer with Wellspring and L’Chaim, you can submit a volunteer application on the Wellspring website.

Emily Jane Pascoe is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto where she studies religion and Jewish Studies. She and her husband recently moved to Hamilton.