Cancer Survivors Need Friends Who Understand Our Cancer Journey

A woman with metastatic breast cancer describes a fulfilling experience of meeting another survivor who has lived a similar cancer journey, and the unique lasting connection it can create.

While I’ve joined a number of Facebook support groups, I’ve never been to an actual in-person support group for breast cancer. I currently belong to a couple of groups for metastatic breast cancer and a few groups for aesthetic flat closure, or “Flattie” groups. What always amazes me within these groups is their diversity. These are complete strangers coming together to form an online community of shared stories and support. People from all different walks of life, ages, and places around the world who have something in common: in this case, breast cancer. We are all members of a club no one wants to join, yet here we are, and we all get it. For the most part, there is a mutual understanding, even amongst the differing opinions.

I have made so many new friendships through these groups. Friends who truly understand what I live with and what I am going through on a daily basis. The best part to me though is when you actually get the opportunity to meet in person. Online can be a great way to keep in touch, but nothing can replace a real life face-to-face meet up with someone who understands and has been there.

Recently a member in my metastatic group made a post asking for recommendations for an oncologist in the Los Angeles area. Having had a great personal experience with City of Hope’s main campus in Duarte, I replied with my recommendation. As I was reading through the comments, I happened to notice a recommendation from another member for an oncologist in my county. Of course, I had to reply to the commenter that I live in the area as well. We ended up taking our comments off Facebook and having a private message conversation where we decided to meet up locally. In a group of nearly 7,000 members from across the globe and here there was someone with a similar diagnosis who happens to live less than 10 miles from me.

It felt a little like a blind date as we met for iced tea one early evening last week. She sent me a message about what she was wearing and where she was sitting. I messaged her back what I was wearing. That day I happened to be wearing my lemon print tee shirt. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is one of my favorite proverbial phrases, and lemons and the color yellow always makes me feel cheerful. From her description I spotted her sitting outside as I pulled my car into the parking lot. We went inside and ordered the most delicious mango iced tea and then found a little table outside where time just seemed to fly by. We talked a lot about our diagnosis and treatments and our lives in general. I think we both were in agreement that it’s reassuring to have someone to talk to who has been in your shoes and really gets it.

Having a similar diagnosis and sharing our experiences, we never ran out of things to say even though we had just met. As it turns out, we are the same age, with our birthdays only a couple of weeks apart. Coincidentally, we also shared the same surgeon who performed our aesthetic flat closures. She’s a Flattie like me. I introduced her to my Flattie groups and one day I hope to have her meet some of my local Flattie friends. What are the chances? Two metastatic Flatties who met online become two new friends. We have another iced tea date set up for this week that I am looking forward to, as well as many more years of friendship and support.

No one should have to go through a cancer diagnosis as a solitary endeavor. We are stronger together with friends, both new friends and old friends, and knowing who we can lean on. There is comfort in being supported by those near and far, even though it sometimes takes a group to find each other and an incurable disease to bring us together.

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