This past weekend involved my travelling to Toronto to meet, share and learn with a group of ladies who had in the past been diagnosed with cancer (A bitter sweet experience. On one hand, it’s amazing to get together with women and chat-chat-chat ourselves silly about fertility, chemo, treatment and diagnosis . . . on the other hand, stepping back from the tea and biscuits, it’s also a little bit sad so many wonderful people had to have gotten sick.). The idea here (and in this case, it’s specifically a breast cancer charity, though similar sorts of support are offered through many cancer centers, such as Wellspring.) is that those newly diagnosed can reach out for information or a quietly listening ear from those who have ‘walked that walk’ before.
Really, it’s all about the sharing. There are times when we desperately need to share, to reach out, to connect. Personally, I had a negative first experience in terms of finding support. I’ve told this little story before, and now I’ll tell it again: when I asked the breast cancer nurse (moments after being told about the cancer) if there were any breast cancer support groups in the area, she basically said:
“Not for a women your age, at your stage of treatment.”
Gag. Really? Really? Then she went on to tell me that I was in an exceptional position, and the last time a woman around my age was diagnosed was maybe two years ago. I guess considering the surgeon performs several mastectomies and bilaterals a week . . . this ‘one every few years’ thing was small peanuts.
But I digress.
Support is a great thing. Before finding Facing Cancer Together (my first and still very important experience of peer support within Canada), I guess there was the blogging. To share, even with just my family and the people they referred Bumpyboobs to, was alleviating.
It wasn’t because people could write back with all the answers, and it wasn’t because writing would carry away my problems . . . it was because . . . . . . because I could share.
Release that ball of pressure. Let others know how I felt without having to make things ‘nice’. (Or at least, not too nice. My grandmother was reading that blog, so I’d be lying if I said there was no censorship . . . but it was, on the whole, a very honest medium.)
So there I was last weekend ready to volunteer my time and energy to a program I think is essential (i.e. Peer Support for Young Women with Breast Cancer).
And here we go – into training! Friday starts with some emotional ‘what inspires me’ stuff, then Saturday rolls into picking apart pity versus compassion, and all the while we eat-eat-eat (sushi & Thai food for lunch . . . ahhh, so good. I made some Thai last night just to recreate the experience.) and as we eat, we chat-chat-chat.
“Fertility. Babies. Children. Drugs. Surgeries. Options. Chemo. Radiation. Depression. Exercise. Side Effects. Projects. Reconstruction. Discovery. Advocacy. Research. Doctors. Diagnosis. Family. Energy. Nausea. Work. Sick Leave. Hair growth. Marathons. And so on!”
I really should have known better. Saturday night following the training, I ought to have curled up in the hotel room with room-service pizza and ordered some stupid movie for distraction. But instead, since this was a great opportunity to meet people (and it was, which is why I couldn’t say no), I went out for dinner with the ladies. We ate this gorgeous pizza, and we talked-talked-talked.
“Babies. Children. Drug Plans. Lymph nodes. Prognosis. Treatment. Studies. Genetics. Birth Control. Fertility drugs. Family planning. Tamoxifen. Herceptin.”
Listening-listening-listening. I felt my head get heavy and the room tilt sideways.
What the heck was happening?
This is what happening: I suddenly had had enough. Exhaustion replaced interest, and I basically fell asleep in my pizza before interrupting the conversation and asking to be taken home. The following Sunday involved a lot of role-playing (very useful but also intense) and I think everyone had had enough of ‘cancer’ by the time the weekend was over.
Which is why I think, really, sometimes it’s better to focus on the “Everything else we go through” as opposed to the cancer. Yes, sharing is incredible. Meeting like-experienced others is confirming in the ‘you are not alone’ sense. This is all so very good, so very supportive, so very helpful.
But it’s also a wonderful thing to breath and be quiet. To remember that the sun is shining. To lose yourself in a book. To run that mile alone. To just let yourself be everything and anything except a person who has had (or has) cancer.
Stepping away is a wonderful thing. So for me, this week, I’ve tried my best to step away. This post speaks otherwise . . . but along with writing this post, I’ve been working on Narrative Nipple, looking at places to move, applying for jobs, and arranging a reading group. Not bad, eh?
So, here’s to stepping away and letting it go. Those are the best moments, after all. The moments where you’re nothing but yourself, and the pressure is forgotten. Just let it go. Once in a while . . . just let it go.