Breast cancer can feel lonely and isolated, but through community, a person touched by cancer can enjoy camaraderie and support.
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
“Find your tribe,” I heard her say, “the people who understand you, the people who can relate to your experiences, the people who can empathize with you.” My caring oncologist wanted the best for me. She understood the importance of community.
Until I became a breast cancer survivor, I never realized I needed a tribe. I had my family and a few close friends who helped me during the initial phases of breast cancer treatment, but after that period ended, and I moved into the recovery stage, it became apparent I needed people who could relate to what I was going through. I just didn’t know where to find them.
A friend shared she’d seen breast cancer support groups on social media. To join, I would need to answer a few questions and submit a request to the administrator of the group. Shortly thereafter, she explained, I’d receive a notification my request had been accepted. Taking her advice, I sought out a few groups for the newly diagnosed.
Over the next few weeks, I enjoyed reading posts from women in the groups. One group was filled with negativity. I didn’t need that, so I decided to leave the group. The other two groups were informative and supportive but couldn’t provide my need for human interaction. While I appreciated their love and support, I needed a real live person, not a virtual one, so I kept looking for my tribe.
I saw an advertisement for my local cancer treatment center online. The advertisement mentioned upcoming classes for survivors. There would be a variety of groups forming, one focusing on cooking, one for art therapy, one for music therapy, and several different group therapy options. My interest was piqued, and I contacted the cancer center to find out more information. The receptionist was very kind and offered to send me a schedule.
I wanted and needed friends with a similar experience. Perhaps I could find camaraderie amongst other survivors.
As soon as I received the schedule in the mail, I circled items of interest. There were classes during the day and the evening. Since I was free during the day, I decided to try several different groups in hopes of finding one that would meet my needs. I was hesitant to join but knew staying home alone and isolated was not healthy.
Mustering my bravery, I called to reserve a spot in the groups but was told no reservation was necessary. The groups were open, and anyone affected by cancer was free to attend.
I was surprised at the welcome I received. Immediately, it felt good to be among other women who’d lost their breasts to cancer.
After participating in groups for a couple of sessions, I discovered a feeling of genuine community. While there, I didn’t have to be anyone other than myself. I didn’t have to apologize for the way I looked or how I was feeling. I was accepted and loved. The thing that touched me the most was how the women in the support groups understood I was more than my cancer.
Finding the right tribe can be tricky and can take time. It’s important to think about what kind of group is needed. By asking questions, a person can determine the type of tribe that would best fit his or her needs. Family and close friends are valuable parts of a tribe, but sometimes, it can take an entire village of people to help one face a lifelong disease.
Local hospitals and cancer treatment centers are good sources for support groups. A nearby counseling center may also offer breast cancer support therapy sessions. If you can’t find a suitable support group, consider forming one of your own.
Support groups are important— attendees should be prepared to not only accept support but to offer it as well.
It’s been said that no man (or woman) is an island. That means living a solitary life isn’t healthy.
We were made for community. The person with breast cancer can easily fall prey to isolation, especially when poor health dictates so much of one’s life: but someone also said there is strength in numbers and through personal experience, I know this to be true. I have been made stronger by and through the strength of other breast cancer survivors.
"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one."- Margaret Mead