Updated: Feb 5
As I entered I heard, "Welcome to the group".
Women, young women (too many) sitting in an empty local restaurant, around a cozy fire with munchies and warm drinks. This restaurant opens one evening a month for young women with cancer to meet. I shyly entered, put a post-it note name tag on, and observed. I first noticed the short hair, the hats, and then as time went on I saw smiles, I heard stories, and felt welcome. It's not long before I am asked for my story which at the time was less than 1 week old. I had just been diagnosed, was waiting for the date to start chemotherapy, was worried and unsure of my life and or what that even meant. I was numb to so many things, however sitting with these girls who were survivors, fighters and so supportive gave me exactly what I needed. I belonged. The feeling of belonging, knowing they "get it". I cried, they listened and even face-timed one of the girls who just had a chemo treatment but they insisted I meet her. Let's call her Lily. Our stories were so similar we connected instantly, little did I know just how much this relationship was going to be my lifeline.
The meeting was 2 hours, we chatted about all things and lots of non-cancer conversations. I think I even forgot about my diagnosis for a few minutes. As I drove home I felt content, that I had this purposeful experience and it was going to help me.
I quickly learned how little I knew about cancer and that meant that my closest friends and family knew even less. I was learning and researching as if it was my full-time job. This was my life on the line. I never faulted anyone for saying things that hurt me or for close friends slowly slipping away when I needed them the most. No one knew what to do, including me. However, my new friends and new breastie was where so much of my strength was going to come from. They understood, they knew when to listen and when to ask questions. Sometimes the nod was all we could give each other and it was enough. We were united by our diagnosis. There is something to be said about strangers becoming so close after four little words "I have cancer too". We were a group of young moms, students, wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters, workers, and now women with cancer.
We celebrated cancer milestones, decorated houses for the last chemos, witnessed the ringing of the bells, cried on each other's shoulders, sent cards, shared tips, laughed, played trivia, went for lunch, experienced painting, introduced our families, checked in on each other, shared experiences, attended retreats and were forever friends.
Support in times of uncertainty is hard to ask for. I was never very open about my struggles before my diagnosis. I was private and felt comfortable within my own small circle. I have learned this is a journey not to take on your own. Those in your life now will provide different supports and you never know who needs you just as much as you need them and you haven't even met yet. Be open and reach out to groups, social workers, friends, and family. I started to see a social worker when I was in chemo, I quickly decided it wasn't for me after 2 appointments. I wasn't quite sure what to talk about and never felt it was helping. I had so many appointments at the time, it was just another thing on my agenda and an easy one to remove. Fast forward, chemo, surgery, and radiation are done. Now... I sit with all my feelings. I felt the worst I had ever felt emotional and re-visited my social worker. I went every 2 weeks for months. I had such a different experience, I was more open and ready to deal with the loss of my life before cancer, the changes my body has gone through, and start to look at what my life will look like moving forward. I continued with support groups monthly during this time and my mental health started to slowly improve. The social worker was able to help me work through my feelings of grief. I never thought of it like that, but I was grieving and needed time and someone to tell me to take the time to heal.