Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Get It Where You Can

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.

REACHING OUT

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.  


www.supportconnection.org


11 comments:

  1. Thanks for an awesome post. I've been the woman who was holding the alarmingly scary X-ray film (NEW TIMER!) and the one who reached out and squeezed a shoulder (usually I say, they will take GREAT care of you here) on my way into the exam room. Connecting with others who have walked the same path is the greatest RX to alleviate the isolation, dislocation and (sometimes) depression that can result from breast cancer and its treatment.

    The cancer itself was nothing. The treatment? Oy!

    So please, keep reaching out and assuring others of its value. It matters. Understanding means so much. Together we are going to go out and get this beast.

    cheers,
    Jody

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  2. I'm so glad you were able to find a support group that fit. I've tried but my local groups just don't seem to work for me. I think it must be me. I'm so thankful to have found this online community though, because I think I've found everything that I was looking for in the support group. But without the pressure of having to show up, but also being available 24/7. It's wonderful to know that you are not alone.

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  3. Stacey: There are no words.... thank you!

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  4. I too tried to find a support group, but the one that was local was comprised of much more mature women, and (this sounds bad of me) I just didn't want to talk about Medicare, bingo, etc. I am not a shy person and I will walk up to someone wearing a scarf and ask. Then I tell them they are beautiful (and they are) and then I ask if I can hug them. So far, no one's decked me, but I guess it's my way of coping and finding support for me...

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  5. Great post Stacey, I love how you realized you first desire to talk with that woman in the office was more about you than her. That is honest insight that we all need. I have many times been in that same situation and try to get a read from the other person to see if they seem interested in contact. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't, you have to honor that.

    I am glad you found a place where you felt support and comfortable enough to share your own story. Keep sharing it as much as you can, we all learn from each other. Twitter has really become my support group, since I first got on and found some amazing survivors and an great supportive community. Including you!
    Deb

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  6. I didn't look too hard for a support group, because I'm not a very outgoing person. Plus, like karmaperdiem, I thought I would find a room full of older women, and I was only 27. My Look Good, Feel Better session was fun, but I was by far the youngest woman in the room. (Except for the presenter!) I'm glad you found such a great source of support!

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  7. Stacey, We have probably all been in the situation you describe. I know I have. When I see a "first timer" I want to reach out, but usually don't because I figure they want their space, but who knows... Sad part is we will have this opportunity to reach out to newbies many times over. I am actually going to try a face-to-face support group and the funny thing is, I see it as a way to help a newbie, not so much myself. I'll let you know if I ever go. I don't see how it can compare to this online group though, it's the best! And I don't have to leave the house!

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  8. Even if you reach out to others to help yourself, it may still help her! That's how I started my blog in the first place- because I read someone else's who was just writing to get her own thoughts out, and she inspired me. Never underestimate how much you can touch someone else's life (well, unless the person is one of those overbearing, talks-too-much, can't-take-the-hint-when-the-other-person-moves-to-the-other-side-of-the-room kind of women... awkwaaard!). You've already impacted more women than you probably realize. xoxo

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  9. Wow, here again, proof of how special our blogging world is and why I love it so much. The comments I receive never fail to reinforce just how connected we all are to each other. It's silly that we ever felt alone, but maybe that early time is needed to process and deal until we find our support community, wherever it may be.

    I wish I could respond after each comment, but I don't think Blogger is set up that way. So, here goes:

    Jody, "New Timer!" Yes, that's it exactly, better than first timer. I'm totally stealing that. Thanks for your words. You've convinced me that even a few encouraging words are worth saying.

    Anna, I understand what you're saying. I so wish though, you were in my group. It's a good one, but I'm thankful you're such a big part of my online group. I think of you everyday.

    Barbara, what more can I say? You know how I feel about this. I'm thanking you.

    Lisa, you made me laugh. I so know what you mean. I wouldn't be comfortable in those groups either. My group is specifically for "younger" women. I thought I'd be too old at 45, but it's about right. We get women anywhere from 30 through 50's. No bingo here! Although, with pie, it might be fun!

    Debbie, thanks so much for reading. I agree, we do have to respect another's space, and that's what makes wanting to reach out so hard. There's a fine line between helping and intruding. At least we know where to turn when we need support or pie. I'm happy to have found you in this incredible online community.

    Ginny, I'm not very outgoing either and that's why I couldn't believe I went that first night. Believe me, I thought of turning around before I got there, but in the end, it was so worth it. And like I said to Lisa (Karma) no bingo in this group.

    Nancy, I so hope you try a group. Hopefully, you can find one age appropriate for you. That's what made the difference for me. I think you'll get a lot out of it. There's something good about sharing all this crap in person. Makes the load seem a bit lighter. Please let me know if you go.

    Sami, thank you so much for reading the blog and sharing your thoughts. I've been reading yours. There's no doubt your mother would be so proud of what you're doing. Thanks for the kind words. I hope to help without being the overbearing person you described. Yikes!

    Thanks everyone for your continued "support."

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  10. Stacey I'm glad you found a group where you could find support when you needed it. I was musing yesterday about how different my experience of breast cancer might have been had I found this blogging network sooner. I was diagnosed in 2007 and looked for a support group. At the first one I was absolutely speechless when they asked me if I wanted to play bingo, and I was reassured to hear here that I'm not the only one who didn't want to!!

    Then I found a young women's group, but even at 43 I was much older than many of the women there, so that wasn't quite right for me, and also it was a long way from home and I was finding driving difficult. So I went on to find a great breast cancer forum (only for bc patients) which I actively used for the next couple of years.

    Back in 2007 social media was in its early days and this sort of 'community' didn't exist I don't think? At least, I never thought to look for it. It was only in late 2010 that I found the courage to foray into the world of blogging.... and it's been the best support I've found so far. I just find so much understanding out there and it feels great to not feel so alone - at last. Thank you all.

    Sarah

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  11. Sarah, I know it's so hard to find the right fit. Early on in my diagnosis, I spent a lot of time on a certain BC website, but found the comments there to be very negative and depressing. It often made me feel worse, so I soon gave that up.

    I so agree with your comment about the blogging community. I had no idea what I'd find when I ventured in just last October, but as you say, everyone is so ready to be supportive and reassuring. It's fantastic. We all managed to find each other.

    Thank you so much for reading and sharing your experience.

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