I get it. When I was first diagnosed, I wanted to hide in my apartment and not see anyone who wasn’t my family. I didn’t want to talk to people, to have them look at me with sympathy and sadness; that head-tilt-and-frown expression, almost always followed by, “Hey. How are you?”. I didn’t want people to look at me differently, to look at me as sick, to look at me with pity. What didn’t initially occur to me though, was that there was an entire club of people out there who were right where I was at that exact moment, also not wanting other people to look at them that way and also wanting someone else who would deeply understand that feeling, with no explanation needed. I needed people who were going to empathize with these feelings, not just show sympathy. Where to even begin though?
Everything else was so overwhelming, I used that as an excuse at first not to put myself out there, not to find my people, because I didn’t accept yet that they were my people. Try to imagine: you are going about your life as a busy 28 year old, teaching summer school, spending time with your boyfriend, looking forward to your August off, not feeling sick in any way whatsoever; then, in a matter of a few minutes, you go from young, and healthy, and excited, and vibrant, to sick, to pitiable, to different. But you don’t physically feel any different, you don’t match the image you have in your head of a cancer patient, and yet somehow you are “sick”. It’s hard to associate yourself with that group, and part of you (okay, maybe a big part) resists that affiliation.
If you are feeling that way right now, I completely understand, I have been where you are. But I can tell you that this journey is going to be so much more difficult, a lot lonelier, and way scarier without a tribe. And not just a tribe of supportive friends and family (that’s important too), but of other people who know, who understand, who feel the same anger, the same fear, the same sadness. To whom you never have to explain or justify or defend your choices or emotions. Who just get it. Your people. Because as much as your friends and family sympathize, they will never truly understand, and that will get exhausting, trust me. You will get tired of explaining how you feel and why. You will get tired of justifying why you aren’t ready to go back to work even though you are physically well enough. You will get tired of people wanting you to pretend that everything is okay or of feeling like you should pretend. You will just get tired.
It was such a relief when I walked into my support group for the first time and realized that no explanation, no justification was necessary, that every single woman in that room knew, and knew deeply, exactly what I was going through; and it was like a weight lifted. Sometimes, right in the middle of the shit sandwich it just gave you, life also hands you a warm, comforting drink to help wash it down.
Don’t get me wrong, my friends and my family were nothing but amazing during this time, but like I said, there are just some things that they couldn’t understand, no matter how hard they tried. These women became my warmth and my comfort, my light in a part of the darkness that nothing else could penetrate. I had to take that first step though, and man, am I glad I did.
Many of us don’t attend the support group anymore because we have returned to work and can’t make it to the meetings, which occur in the afternoon. From the outside, it looks like we are back to normal, but another thing some of your loved ones won’t understand, or maybe don’t want to, is that for you, it will never go back to normal, at least not to the normal that it used to be. The knowledge that you had cancer, the changes in you that it brought (physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional), and the fear of what could happen in the future will never go away. These will always be there, sometimes in the background and sometimes front and center. But what will also never go away is the connection that you forge with your people.
We got together recently for dinner to catch up, to see each other, and of course to commiserate. We talked, we took pictures, but most importantly, man oh man did we laugh. So much so that I think everyone else in the restaurant thought we were crazy :p But that’s okay, because we all understood why we were acting that way and how important it was for us to be doing this. We are just happy to be here, alive and thriving and together.
It might feel right now like no one can understand how you feel and that no one could ever make it feel any better, but I promise that they can and they will. It might just be right here in our Facebook group, or it might be a support group close by; it could be an organization that offers retreats, or a foundation that will take you on trips to meet others just like you. Wherever they may be, your people are out there, so many of them just waiting to offer support and empathy and hugs. You just need to take that first step towards them.
Below are some websites for cancer support centers and organizations. They are a fantastic place to start looking, and if you have any organizations of your own that you would like me to add to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below or head over to the “Contact Me” page to send me a message.
Happy Healing ❤️
Wellwood – No cost cancer support programs in Hamilton, Ontario: https://www.wellwood.ca/
Wellspring – Wellspring provides a wide variety of supportive care programs and services, at no charge, to anyone living with cancer at multiple locations all over Southern Ontario and a few locations in other provinces: https://wellspring.ca/
First Descents – Through outdoor adventures, skills development, and local adventure communities FD improves the long-term survivorship of young adults impacted by cancer. Participants experience free outdoor adventure programs that empower them to climb, paddle, and surf beyond their diagnosis, reclaim their lives, and connect with others doing the same: https://firstdescents.org/
Pink Pearl Canada – Pink Pearl Canada is a community-oriented charitable organization that provides support, facilitates connections and empowers young women who are courageously overcoming the social and emotional challenges of being diagnosed with cancer across Canada: https://pinkpearlcanada.org/
iRise Above Breast Cancer – iRise Above provides an innovative holistic program. The program is approximately 6-month in length, with a spiritual group retreat midway, and an epic active adventure challenge somewhere extraordinary in the world, at the end to celebrate self-transformation and completion of the program: https://www.iriseabovefoundation.org/
Camp Breastie – The Breasties provide an energizing, weekend-long experience at camp with your Breasties – a getaway in the outdoors for community, wellness, and fun! Think of the ultimate summer camp experience but with women who “get it” by your side. The Breasties also organize seasonal retreats: https://thebreasties.org/camp/
Rethink Breast Cancer – On a mission to empower young people worldwide who are concerned about and affected by breast cancer through innovative education, support, and advocacy: https://rethinkbreastcancer.com/
YACC (Young Adult Cancer Canada) – A national network of hundreds of young adults affected by cancer, just like you. YACC is here for young adults who were diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 15-39 and are currently between 18-39. Their mission is to support young adults living with, through, and beyond cancer. To be the connection to peers, bridge out of isolation, and source of inspiration. Every cancer, every stage, YACC’s got your back: https://youngadultcancer.ca/
Nancy’s List – An online community of cancer story sharing and two important lists: a list of financial supports available to cancer patients and another with integrative therapy options and information. At Nancy’s List, they want every man, woman, teenager, and child who has to walk the walk to hold the hand of someone who has been there, someone who understands the cancer mystery, and who will hang in there when times are tough: https://nancyslist.org/
Cancer Grad – Cancer Grad is redefining the cancer experience by providing the cancer community a platform for finding new perspectives, sharing their experiences, connecting with a global support group, and empowering them to take charge of their future. We aim to promote healing while waiting on a cure: http://www.cancergrad.org/