They sing. They dance. They harmonize.

They heal.

A group of local cancer patients and survivors are using music as a way to help them through diagnosis and treatment and are hoping to reach out and help others health through singing as well.

“This choir contributes to my well-being. It is very deeply felt,” says Glen Walker, who is currently undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.

“Singing together is very intimate, singing with people who have shared, lost, pain, that kind of thing is really special.”

The passionate group of singers originally formed through the choral program at the Cross Cancer Institute but after 12 years, the program was recently discontinued due to funding cuts.

Instead of ending on a low note, the ensemble decided to continue beyond the institute and form their own group: The Crossroads Singers.

“We realized, what an opportunity it was,” said Donna James, who has been involved in the choral program since it began 12 years ago and is a breast cancer survivor.

“Most of us, firsthand we were diagnosed with cancer and it seemed like the worst thing that would happen to a person but in retrospect it was one of the best things in some of our lives because it showed us different ways to approach life generally This opportunity has made it possible for actually start to get out into the community.”

James says singing with a group helps distract those going through cancer treatment and also has benefits for your heart and health.

“Some of these beautiful pieces of music just fill your heart,” she said.

“There are all sorts of benefits that go with this program.”

Walker says singing alongside James and others who have been touched by cancer has been a therapeutic process.

“The people were so welcoming. I actually can’t imagine not being here,” he said.

“Just the ability to find that you can make music and you can make music that is quite satisfying and good and you can participate in that, that’s sort of energizing and a positive thing.”

Limited funding leads to program changes

The choral class was originally put on through the Arts in Medicine program.

Paula Germann, the Cross Cancer Institute’s acting executive director, says given a tight budget, the institute had to look at discontinuing some older programs in order to start new ones.

“Programs change and evolve overtime. We are constantly evaluating that,” Germann said.

“We really wanted to make sure that it is about the cancer patients’ journey and having the ability to offer programs to the largest number of patients as opposed to a smaller population because there is limited funding.”

Now The Crossroads Singers meet once a week just a few blocks from the Cross Cancer, at St. Paul’s United Church.

James says the group is recruiting new members and is hoping to reach out to those who have been touched in some way by cancer.

“We want more people. We want to build our choir into a much larger body. We want to make it accessible for everyone,” James said.

Walker says he’s looking forward to expanding.

“That would be something that we really hope to have,” he said, adding with a laugh, “and hopefully more men too.”

The Crossroads Singers meet each Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Church 11526 76 Avenue.

Contact Donna James at 780-906-6063 for more information.

With files from Carmen Leibel