A Gift of Hope

As our society ages, a cancer diagnosis is becoming more frequent than in years gone by, affecting one in four women and one in three men. And with most patients having a partner or family member directly involved in their crisis, we realise just how many lives are touched by the shadow of cancer. But, as Julie Grant explains, a non-profit organisation is providing thousands of Western Australians with a new gift of hope.

As our society ages, a cancer diagnosis is becomingmore frequent than in years gone by, affecting one infour women and one in three men. And with most patientshaving a partner or family member directly involvedin their crisis, we realise just how many lives aretouched by the shadow of cancer. But, as Julie Grantexplains, a non-profit organisation is providing thousandsof Western Australians with a new gift of hope.

While the name Balya may not be significant to mostof us, to many West Australians suffering cancer, it'sa name that offers an opportunity to regain their spiritand laughter as they battle their disease.

Balya takes its name from the Aboriginal word for'healing', which appropriately describes the missionof Balya Cancer Self Help and Wellness (Inc) -to provideretreats and a comprehensive range of services to givecancer patients, their families and carers the strengthto 'live' life in the face of cancer.

For many people, the diagnosis of cancer is a chasmthat opens up unexpectedly, shaking the foundationsof their beliefs, and throwing their lives off balance.

Cancer may be a mystery, but for many the chasm canbe bridged by hope. That hope is the process by whichsomeone dealing with cancer can learn to manage theirdisease, living a fulfilling and whole life.

Since 1989, Balya has been providing a remarkablecancer support service for both patients and their carers.It educates families dealing with cancer and the broadercommunity about the disease, its prevention and treatment.Working cooperatively with other health care agenciesand cancer support organisations, it fulfils a uniquerole in WA.

Balya also helps people with cancer seek physical,emotional, psychological and spiritual healing so theycan face their illness from a holistic perspective.Since its formation, Balya has helped over 2000 patientscome to terms with their disease and get the most outof life.

It is unique, too, as the only organisation in WAproviding 'time out' retreats to people and their familiesdiagnosed with cancer. Its retreat program has beenso successful that the demand now far outweighs availabilityand it faces the challenging task of raising funds tobuild a new, purpose designed retreat facility.

The planned new facility, set in 20 hectares of inspiringbushland, will offer existing services to more peopleinvolving short courses in medical, psychological, nutritional,and the self-help aspects of disease management. Itwill also cater to all cancer patients, regardless ofthe stage of their disease.

The scope of Balya's support services is only limitedby the viability of funds for the centre. The non-profitentity has the challenging task of raising $2.5 milliondollars to complete Stage One of the retreat.

The new centre will also allow a particular focuson children, one of the groups worst affected by a diagnosisof cancer in the family. It is planned to have facilitiesavailable for live-in weekends, and accommodation availablethroughout the year.

The goal of Balya retreats Founder and Chairpersonof Balya Dr Ivy Bullen, had felt there was a great needfor a large-scale education and support program forcancer patients and their families, preferably in a"time out" retreat situation where the focus could beon "living". She saw the retreats as providing psychological,spiritual and medical support to cancer patients andtheir partners, in a relaxed and peaceful environmentaway from the rigours and stresses of their daily lives.

For this reason Balya was born and has been able toeducate many families on some of the known causes ofcancer, its medical treatments, nutrition and lifestyles.In Dr Bullen's view : "While there is not always a simplecure for cancer, there can still be healing in a person'slife." Her goal was to empower cancer patients withinformation and knowledge of the traditional medicine,complementary treatments, psychology and nutrition tohelp them take control of their lives.

By 1992 Balya Cancer Self-Help and Wellness was incorporatedas a non-profit charitable organisation and today ithas a 150 strong volunteer force helping to make itssupport groups, retreat services and newsletters availableto the public.

A Balya inspiration -Margaret's story
At only 27 years old I was diagnosed with cancer ofthe kidney. The cancer was removed and I set about withdetermination to live long enough to see my kids growup.

In 1990, confirming my worst fears, I was diagnosedwith secondary cancer of the liver. After surgery Iwas told that I would be lucky to live three months.I was not given any information on alternative therapiesor things I could do for myself or for my family tohelp us cope. I felt alone and lost.

In 1991 everything changed. I was encouraged to goto a Balya cancer retreat that my family saw advertisedin the paper. For the first time in my 17 year battlewith cancer I was educated about the things that I coulddo, options I could choose and given hope of a normallife.

The retreat changed my attitude. I learnt how to improvemy own health, manage and deal with the stress of thedisease, laugh and be positive in the face of cancer.I now work as a counsellor at the retreats, encouragingothers to live life to the full.

A healing journey
Pauline Larard, a former Balya retreat participant sayssimply, "I have been on a journey."

Pauline says that for 11 years she has been struggling,exploring, listening, doing and learning how to achievevictory over cancer.

"When I was initially diagnosed with cancer, doctorstold me I had a short life expectancy and that it wasa rare cancer that did not respond to chemotherapy.But despite all the gloom and the fear that surroundedmy every move, somehow in my heart and in my head Icould feel and I could hear the 'I'm alive' and I stillfelt alive."

After Pauline attended a Balya retreat where she learntabout the cancer diet, nutrients and vitamin supplementsshe began to seriously change her lifestyle.

"From letting go of my negative experiences, consequentrage and sorrow to practising Chi Quong as part of ameditation program, I proceeded with my healing journey."

In 2001, Pauline has remained well, happy and in astable remission.

The future vision ofBalya
The key to the success of Balya so far is that the charityhas committed volunteers, a small number of dedicatedprofessionals who offer their expertise and energy tomake the retreats a reality. Their value is also widelyrecognised by a broad range of health professionalswho are a major source of referrals.

The planned new complex will be able to accommodatea minimum of 50 people and will have an administration/conference/meetingarea and recreation facilities on site. Balya's serviceswill continue to operate as they do at present, alongsidemainstream medical services, yet extend beyond themto offer a holistic support service to cancer patientsand their supporters.

Balya will be able to offer 12 retreats a year atthe new facility as well as day courses and seminarsfor the general public who wish to work towards optimumhealth.

In the design of the complex, careful thought hasbeen given to landscaping including fruit trees, vines,water features, covered walkways and sheltered alcoves.Solar energy and organic propagation are being givenspecial attention. The heart of the centre will be communalfacilities looking outward from shaded terraces acrossnatural bush. The complex is to represent growth andrejuvenation, incorporating the principal building elementslike leaves around a central fruit.

It is only with the support of the community of Australiaand particularly Western Australia, that a decade ofproviding excellent cancer support service can be rewardedand developed to the next level.

If you would like any furtherinformation about Balya, or would like to make a donationto the Balya Retreat Appeal, please contact the Balyaoffice on 9244 2909, email info@balya.org.auor visit the Balya website at www.balya.org.au