“It’s about belonging,” said Sturdivant, pastor of the Byron United Methodist Church, through which Kaleidoscope offers support for people living with cancer. “It’s about letting people know that there is a place for them in the world. They matter. Their suffering matters.”
Surdivant hopes to get that message out to as many East County residents as possible when the 6-year-old, volunteer-driven organization holds its annual Kaleidoscope Sunday this weekend. As in previous years, the event is open to people of all faiths, and will feature music, guest speakers and ways to connect with all that Kaleidoscope offers.
And those offerings are growing. The organization was originally set up to provide Bags of Hope – colorful gifts bags filled with personally selected items meant to brighten the day of those dealing with cancer – as well as the personal contact that delivering the bags facilitated.
Since its inception, Kaleidoscope has expanded its services to include group-support sessions for cancer patients and care givers, a Krockpot Brigade that delivers home-cooked meals, a freezer food program to provide meals later on, an organic garden that provides fresh vegetables and flowers (and, for those who work the soil, an opportunity for nurturing) and a yet-to-be-named service of spontaneous food deliveries to folks in need. Last week, a second group of Stephen Ministers (lay counselors) was certified, making it possible to provide even more people the comfort and support of an attentive ear.
“It’s far more than I could ever have imagined,” said Kaleidoscope founder and two-time cancer survivor Jan Page. The fact that it’s all accomplished by volunteers makes it all the more special. “They do things so well … If this was a paid organization, I think people would be impressed.”
To De Page, Jan’s husband, the remarkable thing is that the offerings have been created spontaneously by the volunteers. “All these parts have sprung up from these people’s desire to do something, something that they like to do” and wanted to pass on to others, he said.
For Sturdivant, however, the essence of Kaleidoscope can be most easily seen in the support groups he helps run. Participants are all suffering from the devastating effects of the disease, which completely changes the lives of those it touches. “Cancer comes into someone’s life and everything explodes,” he said. “It atomizes families; your old life is no more.”
Even lifelong friends can become estranged, simply because they can’t understand and can’t help. “They can’t do anything, so they don’t come around,” he said. “You become isolated.”
In the warm surroundings of the support groups, however, that isolation eases. “There are tears, anger, rage, disappointment, fear” expressed at the sessions, he said. It helps people connect with each other, which in turn helps them deal more effectively with what they’re going through. “By admitting things to others, and to themselves, you get little pieces of the story that weren’t available before.”
Although the groups have a basic structure and get a nudge from Sturdivant when one is needed, for the most part they are self-guided, allowing participants to focus on what will help them most. And as they help themselves, they help the others in the room as well. Sturdivant recalled one member who later said he had planned to commit suicide, but didn’t because there were people in Kaleidoscope who loved him and needed him.
“He said, ‘I’m dying and I’m scared to death,’” Surdivant said. The admission “gave him a lot of authority.” Despite his having entered the group as a lifelong loner, “He’s found friends.”
About half the people in the three support groups are caregivers rather than cancer patients. Their suffering can often be as bad or worse than that of their loved ones, Sturdivant said, as their entire life is disrupted to provide care. Should the cancer win out, there’s another drastic change, as everything the caregiver has focused on, possibly for years, is suddenly no longer there. Often, though, their involvement with Kaleidoscope continues, as their own healing progresses.
“They learn that one of the best ways to heal is to help someone else heal,” he said. “They find out that they, and what they’ve gone through, matters.”
Kaleidoscope Sunday starts at 9:30 a.m. this Sunday at Byron United Methodist Church, 14671 Byron Highway. Everyone is welcome, and one’s faith doesn’t matter. “All you have to be,” said Sturdivant, “is interested.”
For more information, call 925-634-1411.