Jan Page knows what it is like to live with cancer. At 45 years old, she was diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer, and her personal identity — as teacher, wife and mother — changed. She couldn’t return to teaching.
Complications from her juvenile diabetes made her very ill, and chemotherapy made her lose a lot of her hearing.
“My life changed, because I loved being a teacher,” Page said. “I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
In 2003, 15 years after Page’s diagnosis, Kaleidoscope Cancer Connection (KCC) was born through the Byron United Methodist Church (BUMC). Named for “life’s changing patterns,” the nonprofit organization provides support and connection to individuals living with cancer.
Page said there were no efforts like this in far East Contra Costa County, especially when Kaleidoscope began, despite the area ranking second in California in incident rates for breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.
“This was a ministry that sprung out of a desire to help, because there was nothing,” she said.
BUMC’s minister at the time embraced the idea, and in the 16 years since, their programs have continued to grow.
Kaleidoscope’s initial connection with an individual starts with a “Bag of Hope” — a collection of items personalized to them, representing their hobbies, things important to them and cozy items like a comfortable blanket.
After a Bag of Hope is given, KCC makes contact with the recipient to offer additional services: support groups, meals, counseling, spiritual care and Kaleidoscope Kids (“a group of children, young people, and their parents who meet monthly with the purpose of making a difference in someone’s life”).
Executive Director Tony George became involved with KCC because he has a different perspective. He has seen cancer afflict many of his family members, including his wife, Carolyn. He has previously worked in community groups such as the Brentwood Pony League and the Liberty High School Boosters, but this group is a little more personal.
“This one just really touched me,” Tony said.
Carolyn George started a support group for women, Coffee with Carolyn, about a year and a half ago. Tony says he observed how difficult it was for Carolyn when she lost her hair, and she wants to support other women when they’re navigating these changes.
“She wants them to know, ‘Yes, your body will change, but you’re still who you are,’” Tony said.
Coffee with Carolyn meets the first Tuesday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon, and the third Thursday of the month, from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, contact Carolyn at 925-577-3325, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
KCC is staffed entirely by volunteers and made possible by donations and grants, and they are always looking for additional help from the community.
“Sometimes, those people that reach out ... you don’t know how powerful that is, and I have never forgotten,” Page said.
KCC will hold a fundraiser, Music in the Park, at Campos Family Vineyards at 3501 Byer Road in Byron on Sunday, Sept. 22, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for $5. It will include music, food, bounce houses and more information about the services Kaleidoscope provides to the community.