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The Sisterhood of Cancer Survivorship

There are numerous supports for emotional healing and networking.
PUBLISHED May 15, 2017
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.
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.

Some of us experience setbacks during the healing process and this can include infections or such things as a negative reaction to medications and other dilemmas and it can be FRIGHTENING. Again, you are coping with the thought of not being able to control how your body is responding or what may feel to be an emotional roller coaster due to the side effects of medications you have been put on. One of my unexpected dilemmas included a very dangerous infection. My infection resulted in an emergency surgery, another hospitalization, a new set of drainage tubes and a healing process that after draining me of some of my emotional and physical energy knocked me literally back down to start the healing process almost all over again. Oh, and while I did not lose all of my hair my surgery was topped off by my losing clumps of hair which would fall out when showering or moving around. I began again the process of building up to dress myself, manage simple tasks such as preparing meals, and a healing process which was going to happen on a schedule I could only support, but had no set control over. As some of you can possibly relate I couldn’t even pour a glass of milk for myself because I did not have the strength in my upper arms to pick up a gallon of milk. I went back to using strategically placed stepstools in my home because I simply couldn’t reach much past my own body.  Of course, I would ask that smaller containers of milk or other such things be left in advance if alone during the day, but it was the fact I was knocked back down to begin the healing process all over again after making gains and strides toward my healing and well-being. Positive affirmations and meditation were helpful, but a lack of common support was initially missing during my healing process. 
 
I have since learned there are numerous supports for emotional healing and networking which can include closed groups you can search for on places such as Facebook or that you can find out about from cancer organizations which match you up with a peer you can communicate with by phone or other means with thanks to technology while you are unable to drive or if you live too far away from local support groups. I now see others in a similar situation as I had been in, but I am grateful the individuals I see going through the surgeries and procedures have largely connected with other survivors through private support groups on such places as Facebook where they can receive positive feedback when unable to drive or network in person. Learning from my experience, I now encourage individuals as part of the process when planning for surgeries and medical treatments to also consider available resources prior to surgery to help with the process of emotional healing and networking to potentially discuss and process a diagnoses of cancer and the related procedures and challenges which follow. I am proud to be part of at least three survivor groups and with ease we share the tears, hugs, fears, celebrations and losses which are not only part of life, but which are part of a cancer diagnosis. Individuals who are long term survivors mentor newer members of the groups and share knowledge, but most of all offer genuine and caring support. By all means networking and emotional support can be done solely with a social worker or mental health professional, but I would encourage you not to underestimate the power of the support you can gain from fellow peers in addition to any needed professional help. For me, I have formed some close friendships and mentors who now once healed are guiding me in life to pursue the dreams I reminded myself of to include career and personal goals. If you feel you are in need, I hope you are also able to connect and find your Sisterhood of Survivorship and while in is not necessary you find lasting bonds, may such relationships at least be a helpful guide during your process of healing. 
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