As people who have "been there, done that," our very presence provides a new arrival on the cancer rollercoaster a sense of stability and certainty.
I've been given the opportunity recently to do something that many of us cancer survivors literally live for: paying back the kindness and support to someone who is just starting the cancer journey. That this opportunity involved a family member, which made it both extra special and deeply moving.
What I found most rewarding wasn’t about what I had to say regarding biopsies, scans and waiting for results, but what it was like to go through these things myself. As a therapist, I know that the "secret" of why support groups work has more to do with the, "I know you get me," effect than any information that is exchanged.
As people who have "been there, done that," our very presence provides a new arrival on the cancer rollercoaster a sense of stability and certainty. It also helps that we are able to read between the lines when it comes to dialoging with treatment providers. An equal nerve-soother is the ability to interpret both medical jargon and, most importantly, what is not being said about one's condition.
This is not to say that acting as a supportive guide for a family member going through the early stages of a cancer diagnosis is without its challenges. I found myself drawn back to my own biopsy experience as I watched the family member be wheeled away by nurses who were doing their best to calm unsteady nerves. I found myself preparing for whatever news would come from the exam and how to frame it in a way that lessened its impact, while at the same time providing a realistic view of what lies ahead. This inner dialogue unleashed a flood of memories, most of which fell into the category of things not to say to someone going through this process.
Finally, I was not surprised to find that walking someone through this process awakened my own, barely sleeping, worries about my own cancer and whether or not I would once again be the one in need of a supportive other. Knowing, full well, how quickly one has to trade in the advocate's hat for a hospital gown, keeps me both humble and determined. I know that the encouraging words shared with the family member speak directly to my own fears — fears that were not conquered as much as they were converted into the drive to see this journey through no matter the course.