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The Sisterhood of Cancer Survivorship

There are numerous supports for emotional healing and networking.
Living in Miami, I recently participated in a large event held in honor of breast cancer survivors called Day of Caring. It is composed of a large group of women and supportive organizations who gather to celebrate survivorship from breast cancer. It has been amazing to see the bond that can come from fellow survivors reaching out to offer support to one another. Managing work, family and any illness or life in general is difficult enough, but I have personally found an incredible support network as a result of finding and associating with fellow cancer survivors and only wish I had found it earlier in my journey of being cancer free.

When diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing my first surgery and procedures, I was out of work for approximately three months. These were long days and I was essentially grounded as I was unable to drive or network with others in person unless driven places or receiving visitors and receiving visitors felt uncomfortable for the first few weeks. I was fortunate I wondered out a couple times a week to a yoga teacher training class I had begun, but isolation on top of managing pain and grief I have learned is often quite a reality. Sometimes it takes the caring feedback of someone who has been through the process and understands what you’re experiencing to give you the “I have been there and it will be OK” boost you need when you feel you might have reached your bottom. While there were local support groups, I was not able to access them until I was cleared to drive approximately 12 weeks after my first surgery. Don’t get me wrong, I had incredible medical care and I benefitted from some of the newest and most advance procedures in treatment along my journey, but not a single doctor, nurse or specialist addressed the importance of emotional support and ways to manage emotional well-being during my first few weeks in the recovery process.   
Once I was cleared to drive, I began associating with fellow breast cancer survivors and learned about resources such as some locally written survivor books, the Cancer Support Community, a couple of very good closed Facebook groups, and other supportive organizations who assign peer supports and mentors. I eventually became friends with Cindy the author of an informative breast cancer book published by numerous experts in the field. With thanks to Cindy, I learned more than I would have ever known to ask about cancer, reconstruction, remission, lymphedema, further testing and recommended exercises for healing. It is overwhelming to hear the words you have cancer, but then there are still so many procedures, terms, and tests which become part of your life as a result of diagnosis and the doctors don’t have time to explain or think of everything even if they want to. If you aren’t already fatigued from just trying to dress, manage medications and move around even the slightest, the information you have to manage can also be draining both physically and emotionally. I learned that having a sounding board of fellow survivors helped me learn to ask important questions when meeting with my oncologist and during the process of reconstruction. In a support group, we were able to relate to common feelings and simply acknowledge the emotions we all at some point were going to experience during the process of emotional and physical healing. It was another place where I began to experience the Sisterhood of Survivorship.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
Tamera Anderson-Hanna is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Certified Addiction Professional, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and became a Registered Yoga Teacher while coping with breast cancer in 2015. She owns Wellness, Therapy, & Yoga in Florida where she provides personal wellness services and coaching and she is a public speaker on wellness-related topics. You can connect with her at www.wellnesstherapyyoga.com.
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