In the course of healing I’ve sought out support, places that could help me deal with the emotional, mental and physical ramifications of the Big C, reflections in the world of Cancer. The first living with cancer support group I attended consisted of only a few people, all of us cancer patients/survivors. I spend my time mostly in tears, a much needed release.
I have discovered that as much as one thinks they understand cancer. They don’t. I thought I did. My dear friends, a husband and wife, who both have been on each side of the patient/caregiver equation, treated my well-intended hubris with kindness. But what I discovered upon diagnosis is it changes you. For the first time I really understood the gravity of it all.
Our reaction to this news varies and how it impacts us is obviously unique in many ways. Even I am still discovering the aftermath of how this news is shaping my future, changing my goals and emboldening my soul. But it does change you irreversibly.
In that first meeting I had so much to unload. Greif, anger, fear- It just poured out. I sought a place to share my odd sense of isolation. My surprise to find support didn’t necessarily live where I expected it would and how to provide myself with compassion for feeling so weak. I didn’t think I had a right to complain.
I am one of those strong types and a bit of a rescuer from time to time. I will bear the weight of the world, mine and of those I love beyond the point of healthy. My illness stopped this. I remember when I walked out of my life, moving out of my home, knowing that as insane an action as it seemed it was the only choice I had. “You have to secure your oxygen mask first” rang though my head over and over again. It still does every day as I remember to take care of me first.
The second group meeting came a month later. Thankfully I got a reminder call or I may have missed it. Each group begins with an hour lecture of some kind and then we share for the next hour. This time the lecture was on writing ourselves Whole. Seriously, it couldn’t have been a better fit for me.
Now in these meetings we promise privacy of all the group members so I am about to walk a very fine line. Hopefully I navigate this with respect for the other participants that grace me with their sharing, own pain and reflection.
The facilitator opened the meeting with a poem, this time by Emily Dickinson.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
The poem was so apropos since we began talking about writing and creating. One of my struggles has been my lack of will to create, which is my source of joy. This is one of the first drawings I did and posted to my site. It was a connection to my creativity, to my muse and for the hope I fight to maintain.
This second meeting was different. It was filled mostly with people dealing with the cancer of their beloved. I was unsure if I would get anything from those on the other side of the fight. How very wrong I was. It is so easy to be wrapped inside illness, how I feel, that I forget the people supporting.
What struck me was the similarity of experience. They too had a sense of lost time, the sand slipping swiftly through the hour glass, a sense of uncertainty, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Wanting to feel useful doing anything within their control they could. They struggled with their own feelings all the while not wanting to make those feelings a burden to their partner, child or friend with cancer.
We all shared a hatred for Cancer, Fuck becomes a common phrase. I heard that saying Fuck releases endorphins. I hope that’s true because I could use them. We also discussed the importance of chocolate and cake, or better yet chocolate cake and marijuana. This time I cried less but laughed a little more.
So there it was in the midst of this group of mostly cancer caregivers I experience an Oprah “Ah ha” Moment. One of the gentlemen in the class met his wife after her double mastectomy and treatment for breast cancer. They began dating and fell in love, her still baring her port. I suspect his friends wondering on his sanity. Suddenly it hit me, this unconscious needling I didn’t realize was lurking.
Some of my resistance to dating is an unwillingness to bring another person into my illness, into the unknown. In some strange way I feel damaged, fragile, burdened with big baggage. But listening to him was heartwarming. I realized I am NOT my Cancer. I am still the same incredible woman I’ve always been. And now as I seek to embrace life I have even more to offer a partner. And I realized the right one, when he looks at me, will recognize that.