Just before Christmas Suzanne and Chris Leigh had their first break away together in a long while. It wasn’t for long – one Saturday night away. And they didn’t go far – just across town.
“I thought I just need to do the easiest thing at the moment,” Suzanne says.
Suzanne was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 and there have been many rounds of treatment since the cancer spread to her sternum, pelvis and back.
The Christchurch couple stayed a night at Peppers Clearwater Resort through IHC’s ‘Take a break with us’ programme. The pre-Christmas break was booked by Jyoti Scarsbrook, one of the ‘tribe’, as Suzanne calls their solid group of friends, all of whom have children with Down syndrome.
For the past 18 years, following the birth of their daughter Savanna, the couple have been part of this close-knit group of parents they met through The Champion Centre, which provides early intervention services for infants and young children in Canterbury with significant disabilities.
The mothers bonded over the weekly visits to the centre and since then the families have always been there for each other, offering support and sharing strategies. “It’s our tribe; it’s the Down syndrome tribe,” Suzanne says.
Jyoti’s plan had been to get as many of their group away together as possible to support Suzanne and Chris, but with everyone’s pre-Christmas commitments it was just too tough to organise.
Suzanne says she and Chris needed to rest – “not just for me but for Chris as well. He has had a lot of stress. The other times we have been away together have been for appointments”. However, supporting Suzanne through her illness affected Chris’s job and he had to find a new one.
Just as the pair left for the resort there was something to celebrate. Suzanne’s doctors reported that there had been no further spread of the cancer. “We have got to the place where there is nothing new, so it’s time to rest and heal.” She says they did that sitting, chatting and looking out at the lake. Then it was home on Sunday to go Christmas-tree shopping with the kids.
The following weekend they joined their friends for their Christmas party, as they always do. The get-together included seven couples. During the year the women meet more often than the men, grabbing the chance to catch up while their children with Down syndrome are attending the Up Club.
“This group has supported me and Chris through this diagnosis; they all are a tremendous support with phone calls, prayers, meals, cleaning, baking, flowers and many words of encouragement. Jyoti came to every chemotherapy session, which helped keep my mind lifted,” Suzanne says.
“It’s just a friendship that has gone on for all these years,” Jyoti says. “It’s just good to know you are not alone.”
Jyoti and husband Paul, along with one other couple from the group, will be taking breaks with the ‘Take a break with us’ programme early this year.
Photo caption: Friends from the ‘Down syndrome tribe’ get together to celebrate Christmas and whenever else they can manage it.
This story was published in Community Moves. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.