Recently, the nursing staff at the infusatorium, where I receive treatment, took it upon themselves to start a cancer support group.
At the first meeting I attended, some expressed shock at disappointing prognoses. As a hardy veteran of the cancer wars, I understand how the initial diagnosis upsets the routines of living we carefully construct. To discern the pattern of your “new normal” takes time. For a while, confusion reigns with the twin princes of hope and despair. And sometimes, just listening is the best form of support.
At the second, a daughter gave an emotional presentation on caregiving for her mother, recently deceased. She advised us about nitty-gritty end of life issues. We learned that the grief of loss may be tempered with gratitude for the opportuity to assist with life’s final passage.
Support groups matter.
In 2009, following my stem cell transplant, I joined a group in Portland specific to multiple myeloma. Other patients mentored me on the intricacies of this incurable disease. In turn, I offered advice on transplants and acute stage chemotherapy.
Guest speakers informed all of us about the biology. We learned what to expect in available treatment options and that improved treatments might soon create new standards. Throughout the next six years of changes, I always felt comfortable with my doctor’s suggestions.
I made good friends at these meetings. Over time, several passed on due to the relentless march of the myeloma we shared. I miss them, each and every one.
I also get together with three Hood River friends for breakfast. We all have cancer: lymphoma, breast, brain, and my blood disease. We garnish our omelets with comic relief and indulge in the dark wit of survivors by referring to ourselves as The Final Four. Our “cancer” breakfasts go back several years. We’ve outlasted early doubts about the future, for the future has come and gone, and now, come again.
Cancer can isolate the haves from the have nots. The uninitiated view us from the outside in, but we live with our illness from the inside out. I may be stable and look well, but the reality is more complicated. Every week, I must solve the puzzle of my body.
Each of these groups meet this December. I plan to attend. This month commemorates my 8th year since diagnosis. It’s more luck than an accomplishment but I understand that good fortune is part of the deal. I intend to run with it as far as it will take me …
PS: Results from the fifth cycle of my new treatment regimen can be viewed in The Drill.