I tried at one point to put cancer behind me and to leave the cancer community and world behind, but it was kind of strange. My perspectives had changed in some ways that only another cancer survivor could understand. I couldn’t deny the impact my cancer experience and the living in cancer limbo had had on who I was.
Almost four years out from my diagnosis I joined a support group for the first time. I actually felt a reassurance in being with others who struggled with cancer, even those who would not survive, who knew they were terminally ill. I thought terminal cancer patients would make me feel vulnerable, but they didn’t. They made me feel at home, understood, we were warriors in a fight against our common enemy. We lit candles for each one in the group who had died to signify their presence and our memories of them. The group was honest. They understood my reality. They went to each other’s garden parties and funerals, they supported each other. They didn’t spend much time crying or feeling sorry for themselves. They compared notes on what helped with chemo side effects, cheered each other on when they’d reached a milestone, compared their experiences with oncologists.
I didn’t stay in the group long as I felt my membership represented my weakness in needing support. In hindsight, I should have stayed. Cancer has made me understand we all need community. Those of us with a cancer diagnosis or history are reassured by others who share our struggle and our history. We are family in a sense.
I don’t like the name “support group”, somehow the name conger’s up images of people who are weak and can’t take it and want shoulders to cry on. Cancer survivor groups should instead be elite clubs for only those of us who have battled or are battling cancer. Kind of like a VFW, you’d have to apply for membership and meet the cancer diagnosis requirements to be accepted. We’d have halls and dances and parties and offer services and be a resource for those newly entering our community. We are actually kind of the same, we are not veterans of a foreign war, but of the cancer war. And just like veterans find a need for community when they come back from war, those of us who have fought cancer need to be around our fellow warriors sometimes.
Though I left support group, I in the end decided to stay in the cancer community. It is where I belong. It is where I am needed, where I can make a difference. It is where I feel at home. I communicate now with cancer patients every day. It’s what I want to do now. I don’t want to put cancer behind me and to not think of it anymore. It’s part of who I am.
Cancer is bad, but survivorship is not all bad.
Holding on to the good sides of survivorship and USING your survivorship to help others is a wonderful thing that can come out of a bad thing. So good for you.
Everybody is different. And each person is different at different times. So if you get to a point in time that you want to leave survivorship in the background, that’s fine. And if you never get to such a point, that’s fine, too.
The only thing that matters is that you are dealing with your survivorship in a way that helps you live fully today, whatever way that may be.
With hope, Wendy