How many of us have heard, or had a friend who has heard, the dreaded C word from an oncologist? One’s life is never the same after that. Everyone has to find their own unique source of strength and support for waging the battle with this disease. And, find a way to come to terms with it.
Our member, Cara Holman, found hers in a cancer survivors writers’ group. In it, she found a lifeline....
It was a day like any other day, and I was already making plans for what I’d do after my doctor’s appointment, when the door opened and my oncologist entered the examining room. My suspicions were immediately aroused when she greeted me with: “Where’s your husband. Didn’t he come with you today?” That was the first tip off that I might be in for some less than happy news. People generally don’t need a spouse at hand to hear that their biopsy was clean.
Even then, she didn’t immediately cut to the chase. She remained standing, fingering my pathology report. “Well,” she finally said guardedly, “the results are interesting.” Okay, now I really was getting worried. Either I had cancer or I didn’t. What was so interesting about that? I could think of many other adjectives to describe my pathology report, but “interesting” was not the first one that came to mind.
When she finally did deliver the blow, she managed to sidestep the word “cancer” entirely, murmuring something about a malignancy instead. I guess I should be appreciative that she was just trying to soften the blow, but I’m not sure anything could soften the blow of being told you have cancer.
Immediately dozens of thoughts began whirling around in my head: Could they have mixed up my pathology report with someone else’s? Did she actually say “malignancy” or did she qualify it with the word “possible”? I’m too young for this. This can’t be happening to me. Why did I agree to the biopsy in the first place? How do I tell my family? Am I going to die?
Facing my own mortality, when I was still a year away from my fiftieth birthday, was perhaps the hardest part of the whole experience, worse even than all the needles. My oncologist assured me that I was in no imminent danger, and had great long-term survival odds, but if I learned anything from my cancer experience, it was that there are no guarantees in cancer, any more than there are in life in general.
So where did that leave me? Well, I soon discovered that the best way to control the fear factor was to become as informed as possible about cancer, pick a medical team that subscribes to your basic treatment philosophy, and to remain an active participant in your own care. That was hard at times, because I can’t think of another disease where a doctor presents you treatment options and statistics and then asks you to decide what to do, but being given a measure of control, when so much else of my life was so completely not under my control at the time was empowering.
Having a support system in place was also a must, as battling cancer leaves you vulnerable both physically and emotionally. I was never more grateful for friends and family, and was also in the somewhat unusual position of having two sisters who had also recently battled breast cancer and understood exactly what I was going through. I don’t think there’s any substitute for having someone to talk to who has been through the process themselves, and long after others were tired of hearing about my day to day woes, my sisters were always there for me, to offer encouragement, support or just plain camaraderie
I was barely a month out of surgery and looking for a way to get back on my feet, when I saw a notice in the waiting room of my oncologist’s office announcing the formation of a writing group for women cancer survivors, led by a breast cancer researcher. I was intrigued. I’ve always loved to write even though my career path took me in a far different direction, and I knew it was something I just had to try.
Our writing group soon become a place of healing for the eight of us cancer survivors. Most of us were in active treatment at the time, and I think because we were all still reeling from our diagnoses and treatment, our writings were much more emotionally charged than if we had just been eight random people off the street. Whether we were writing about our cancer, a childhood memory, or a completely creative fiction piece, we always seemed to strike right at the heart of things in our writings. Joining writing group felt very much like someone had tossed me a lifeline, and I knew then that I was on the fast track to recovery.
It has been almost two years now since my diagnosis, and my life has changed in ways I could hardly have imagined. I am cancer free at the moment, and though I know that recurrence is always a possibility, I am hopeful for the future. Writing group is still an important part of my life, and while the cast of characters has shifted over time, it remains a place of healing and hope. Through writing group, I have been given the impetus to write on a daily basis now, and my first piece was just accepted for publication. With the second of my three children leaving for college in the fall and an empty nest looming not so far in the future, I think I may finally have found the answer for what to do with the second half of my life.
Cara Holman lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and the youngest of her three children. A mathematician by training, she began writing again after a brush with breast cancer two years ago led her to join a therapeutic writing group for cancer survivors. Several of her pieces have appeared in Along the Journey, Volumes I and II put out by this group.
LIST OF COMMENTS
Written by LadyDi - Wednesday, September 17 2008
Thank you, Cara. I heard the C word in January 2007 after a follow up to a routine mammogram. I was lucky in that my tumor was found early and the cancer had not spread. Today I am living without cancer and looking forward to retirement and new opportunities to grow in ways I could not even imagine two years ago. Get your yearly mammograms, sisters. Early detection is the key. And don't forget to support organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure (www.komen.org) for all our sakes!
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