It's isolating to have cancer. Making a connection with someone who understands makes all the difference.
Part of the healing process is sharing with other people who care. Jerry Cantrell
The lead up to my mastectomy was a time of crushing anxiety. But, never once in those six and a half months, did I find anyone I could talk to about what it really felt like to have cancer.
It’s not that I didn’t try. I looked to friends and family, but backed off when guilt at causing them pain collided with my intense desire to protect them from that pain. And, in truth, there was just too much I couldn’t explain and they couldn’t understand.
Of course, they kept trying to support me emotionally and I’ll always be grateful they did, but there was only so much they could do.
At one point, I reached out to the only other person I knew who had cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and her drug treatment caused permanent, disabling side effects.
We didn’t know each other well, but she shared her struggle with being sick and “feeling like an old lady” in her 40s. She grieved the job her disability forced her to quit. As a wife and mother, she wrestled with guilt and anxiety as cancer wreaked havoc on her family.
Eventually, she sought out emotional support at The Wellness Community and, as she told me about the sense of community, sharing and programs offered there, I saw her entire demeanor lighten.
So, why didn’t I follow her lead and drive right over there? Quite simply, I didn’t feel entitled as a stage 0 cancer patient to walk in the front door. (Just as talking with her about her treatment made me feel guilty for struggling with my problems.) I left thinking it was up to me to put my head down and get over cancer as fast as I could.
That’s how it went until I woke up from my surgery. Flat on my back and punctured with tubes, I was desperate for emotional support and finally able to accept it. Thankfully, I found myself in a cancer center that offered psychosocial support services and was immediately connected with a nurse navigator.
That was the beginning of my emotional recuperation.
For over a year I clung to my nurse navigator and oncology therapist, who I could talk to about anything without any fear or guilt. I tapped into the power of “me too” when I talked with other patient/survivors. It wasn’t always easy to be vulnerable, but finding someone to talk to brought me hope and our connection gave me joy.
Just the other day, I had the opportunity to express my gratitude for those who heard me, by being the one who listened. I volunteer with the Cancer Hope Network, which matches cancer patient/survivors and their family members with support volunteers with similar cancer experiences. I was matched with a woman facing a mastectomy and a diagnosis very close to mine.
During our 90-minute conversation, we talked about the surgery, but mostly about how cancer affects her sense of self and body image. We talked a lot about her husband and how hard it was to know how to discuss her cancer with her young daughter. (All issues I dealt with six years ago.)
At the end of our conversation, she told me she felt better.
So did I.
If you’re searching for someone to talk to, consider calling the Cancer Hope Network’s toll-free number. (1-800-552-4366) All calls are free and confidential.
Have you found someone to talk to? Who do you reach out to? Let me know in the comments below. I answer every one.