Hope & Healing: Peace Education at the Westlake Cancer Center

A cancer survivor, Sally Weaver, and a friend, Mary Jo Fortin, have implemented the Peace Education Program (PEP) at the Cancer Support Center in Westlake Village, CA. The following is a brief interview with these two women, who have facilitated the workshops there over the last four years with great success.

What gave you two the idea to get started with this?

Sally: I had recently gone through the PEP program myself as a cancer survivor and found that the program was very beneficial for me and my healing.


Mary Jo: And around the same time, I had a friend Claudie, who had cancer, and together we had done a PEP at a senior center. After her diagnosis, she sought help in the cancer support community, and after going through some of those programs, she felt that PEP would be beneficial for that community and would fit right into the curriculum at the cancer center.

Sally and I went together to talk to the Westlake Center’s program manager and we showed her a six-minute video about PEP, told her why we thought it would be good, and she was all for it. We got started a month or two later.

How does the program work within the particular environment of the Cancer Center Community?

Mary Jo: Knowing they may be unable to attend sometimes, due to their treatment or illness, participants requested that we offer PEP every week. They wanted to know that PEP was available. So that was what we did. They can drop in to a workshop at their convenience, and they usually make it through the course sooner or later.

The cancer support community has been a wonderful place to present PEP. People go through so much when they are ill, in pain, and suffering. They face many challenges. Prem Rawat’s message helps to bring more meaningfulness to their lives and the clarity that there is more to their lives than the challenges that come with their illness.

Sally: We’ve had many cancer patients attend, and the room where we have the program is nice because there are couches. If they need to stretch out and watch the program lying down, they can. It is a very comfortable setting for them with pillows and blankets if they get cold.

Who attends?

Mary Jo: Patients, survivors, caretakers, friends, family, and loved ones. The attendance ranges from 2 to 20 people, averaging 5 or 6 per class. Some go through the program many times, over and over, and some just attend a few times. It depends on each individual.

A short while back, I saw a lady come in whose husband had passed away recently from cancer. She was so sad, and it was really difficult for her. She was looking for something to help with the pain and sorrow. I was so touched because after the second week she would come in, sad again, and then after the videos started, her face would lighten up, and she would even smile.

Sally, does your own personal experience surviving cancer come into play when you facilitate the workshops? Do you mention that to participants?

Sally: When I’m a facilitator, I tend not to speak a lot about myself. But if it’s relevant to the situation, I do. As I know for myself, PEP certainly helped. Arriving at a time in your life when you’re looking at possibilities that you weren’t thinking would happen, and hearing a message that brings a real experience of comfort and peace, even for just an hour, is relieving. I’ve heard from so many people that it helps shift their minds away from all the negative thoughts.

Do you have any advice for folks who might be interested in facilitating PEP at similar facilities in their communities? Or advice on how to approach managers to get this kind of PEP started?

Sally: These places really care about people and they care about making a difference, helping people get better, feel better, and making their lives better. So if someone approaches them from a really heartfelt place and communicates how this program can help people cope with the challenges they are going through, they are going to listen. Plus, it is offered free of charge.

Dennis and Mary Jo

Mary Jo: I think it is good to take it to groups you are already involved in, because it shows you are interested in them. I have never had cancer, but I grew up around cancer. My mother had cancer from the time I was 4 until about 12. Then, it was soon after my friend had passed away from cancer that I got together with Sally, who was a cancer survivor and had already attended cancer center programs. With that background, it makes it so much easier to go in and talk to managers, and they are more likely to accept you.

Anything else that stands out that you’d like to add?

Sally: Yes. We have one gentleman who went through the program several times and now has become a facilitator—and not just a facilitator—a real advocate for the program. It is wonderful to see over the last two years how he has loved helping out and how much it has brought to his life.

It is always so heartwarming to hear from the participants about how the course helps them. Recently, a cancer patient said, “The PEP workshop has brought me more clarity to make better choices. It has given me the strength to continue on.”



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