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Empowering the helpless to feel helpful
As if grappling with one friend’s cancer diagnosis isn’t enough, imagine grappling with five of them.
That’s the situation Wendy Erlanger faced earlier this year when diagnosis after diagnosis delivered the bad news — first to her best friend, then to her stepmother and then to three others in her circle of friends.
"Having never been touched by (cancer), it was a lot," Erlanger said in a recent interview.
For the last six months, the River Heights resident has been channeling her resulting nervous energy into More Than Soup, a cookbook for the ill that launched Nov. 6 at the Hotel Fort Garry.
A collection of recipes and advice from more than 150 of Erlanger’s friends, family and co-workers both locally and internationally, More Than Soup is stocked with soups, cookies and breads those people have found nurturing in a time of sickness.
"As I thought of what I could do to help, I realized soup had this huge focus in the conversations," Erlanger said.
"Soup nurses people, fills them up, warms their soul and heart."
Erlanger also noticed how paralyzed some people can feel with how to comfort someone during a time of illness.
Spliced between the book’s recipes are helpful ideas and small acts of kindness — sending cards, helping restock a fridge, not being afraid to sit in silence, and other ways people have found success in offering support.
"All the things you can do instead of saying ‘Let me know what I can do,’" Erlanger said.
The book’s first print run of 600 copies quickly sold out, with the book launch raising more than $10,000.
Erlanger has fittingly directed that money to the Soup Cart, run by CancerCare Manitoba at the Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital. The money is enough to run the cart for a year.
Allison Filmon Carvey, Erlanger’s best friend who helped inspire the book, said she thought she was getting routine test results when visiting her doctor earlier this year.
The Charleswood resident had already been undergoing chemo for melanoma and treatment was supposedly going along well. But the tests delivered tougher news than she expected to swallow.
When she came home, a bowl of soup one of her husband’s coworkers had made and sent home with him that same day was all she could stomach.
"You walk through the door, your shoulders slump and you feel down but you know you need to eat something," said Filmon Carvey, who lives in Charleswood.
"Even though you feel awful, you can get it down. It was like someone was thinking of us and providing for us."
Filmon Carvey, who has known Erlanger since Grade 2, said she’s excited with the response the book has been getting, admitting that many of the recipes ingredients end up on her routine grocery list.
"Everybody who has seen it and pleased," she said.
"They’re so happy to know they’re getting something they can use, but that they can give for somebody else to use and know what the money is going towards."
Meanwhile, Erlanger has ordered a second printing of the book to keep up with requests from schools and businesses looking for a copy.
"I don’t know if it’s the time of year, or because we’re all in some way touched by cancer, it just picked up this incredible momentum," she said.
"The project is speaking to people for a lot of different reasons, but more than I could have dreamed of."
For more, visit www.morethansoup.net.
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