I don’t remember much about my first breast cancer support group meeting 12 years ago.
What I do remember are the guidelines that one of the two meeting moderators shared, “Identify with what is being said, don’t compare your cancers, your treatments or your outcomes. If you do, you will feel everything from doubts about you treatment to fears about your future.”
Good advice for 10 frightened women who had recently finished active treatment. For the next ten weeks, in our once weekly meeting, we were to hear that advice at least once a session.
We ranged in age from 40+ to 60 years. Our backgrounds, careers and life situations were different but the common denominator…breast cancer, brought us together and kept us together for 10 weekly meetings. When we finished the time-limited support group a few of us continued to meet for awhile and then to stay in touch by phone and email.
The support group meetings cut through the loneliness we were feeling as new survivors. Yes, we had loved ones who cared for us, but none of us had a close friend or relative that had been through breast cancer and could identify with what we were feeling.
While our diagnosis and treatment stories were similar, they were not identical. Another reason not to compare. What was very easy for us was the ability to identify with each other when it came to our fears and concerns about the future and the feelings of vulnerability that come from having a life-threatening illness.
At first, we just shared our stories and listened to one another. Then, little by little we began to identify and share coping strategies we developed to get through treatment and get on with life.
We started the long process of training ourselves to live one day at a time and not project. For me this was the hardest lesson, but the most helpful. It gave me back the ability to enjoy my days and not begin and end each day with thoughts of breast cancer and worries for the future.
The two counselors who moderated our sessions kept us from just focusing on our war stories and guided us in moving beyond what had happened to us to thinking about how to get on with our lives. They were invaluable!
Today, there are breast cancer blogs that newly diagnosed women and those in treatment turn to for information and comfort, often times in lieu of a support group.
Many of these blogs are written by women going through treatment themselves, others by long-term survivors. When you go to these sites you need to remember…identify with the feelings but don’t compare treatments, outcomes or life situations.