About a year ago I was in my breast surgeon's waiting room... waiting, for a follow up appointment a few months after the mastectomy and noticed a woman holding tight to her mammogram films and a thick folder, as I had once done. Everything about her screamed first timer.
It was scary how desperately I wanted to talk to her, to ask what was happening, where she was on this path or how much she knew. I wanted to tell her I had been exactly where she was and that she'd get through it. I was practically bursting to say those things, but I didn't say anything. I just let her sit there quietly, holding tightly to the proof cancer exists within her.
Would it have helped her if I, some stranger, invaded her privacy at that very private moment? Interrupting whatever scenario was playing in her head? I didn't really think so. She wasn't asking for an ear to listen and I doubt I would have made her feel better, but I sensed it would have made me feel better.
Suddenly this was about me...again. That's when I realized I needed more than I was getting. I had to find others I could talk to.
This is a recurrent theme in my blog simply because it's so true. I needed to share breast cancer with someone that would understand it. Which is the whole point of this very blog, but at the time, I didn't have it. I just made my way through each day the best I could and since I was on the verge of harassing an unsuspecting stranger, it occurred to me, that maybe my best wasn't so good.
I was coming from a bad place. The several people I knew with breast cancer had died. My own prognosis was good, but as the blogger, ChemoBabe (www.chemobabe.com), so eloquently wrote, the sword was hanging over my head. I had a fatalistic attitude about the whole thing. Yeah, maybe things were fine today, but there's always tomorrow. My history had taught me that and it was a hard lesson to shake.
I called an organization founded by and comprised of breast cancer survivors, several times and they never failed to get me through my lowest moments. These women always made me laugh, an unexpected bonus, and they always made me feel less alone. They suggested I try their monthly young women's group. Maybe hearing other women describe their cancer intrusions would be beneficial somehow.
I went soon after, unsure of what I was looking for. Afraid I hadn't the right to attend a support group without having endured the rigors of chemo. Who was I to complain when others had it so much worse?
If I could have tiptoed in on little cat's feet, I would have. Honestly, I don't know why I even went through with it. Some force propelled me into that room where I sat and listened to women sharing stories, talking openly about their problems, no matter how personal. The concern and support given each other was palpable, whether they knew the woman speaking or not. We all had something in common. I felt welcomed by each and every one. I belonged simply because I had been diagnosed as they had been.
The fact is, our diagnoses varied greatly. The names, the stages, the tumor sizes, the treatments, how we found it... all different. No two women there even came close to being similar. As physically diverse a group of women might be, is how different breast cancer was in that room that night.
What made us the same and unlike other people on the planet was hearing those words. Being told we have cancer. The words that change everything.
I know group support is not for everyone, but I liked having a place to go where I could just be one of the girls in the room. I didn't have to say much. It was understood, but after going a few times, I wanted to explain my situation, my history and why I still live each day glancing up to the sword.
It's a year later and I still go whenever I can, but not so much for myself. I have this blog now and my awesome blogging Twitter friends for support and sharing everyday stuff, but going to group lets me check in with the women I've come to know, and more importantly, be there when a first timer shows up. I might be able to help.
Support, get it where you can.
Below is a link to the wonderful non-profit group I just wrote about. They did not ask me to write about their organization. I did it because every woman should have a warm, supportive place to turn to when overwhelmed by her disease. All services are free of charge and open to all breast and ovarian cancer patients across the country, no matter where they are on their journey.