Monday, January 19, 2009

Support Groups

When I was first diagnosed in 1998, I signed up to attend an 8-week support group without giving it much thought. Some of us decided to continue meeting after the formal group finished. Over the years we have evolved into something different; more like sisters than a support group. We refer to each other as our Bosom Buddies.

In 1999, I joined the Busting Out breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. I made lasting friendships on the team and there were lots of spin-off activities: a bc-survivor running clinic, a Saturday morning walking/running group, ski weekends, hiking, Nordic poling, snow shoeing, yoga classes, etc.

Over the years I’ve questioned the wisdom of forming such strong friendships with other women with breast cancer. While they are a great support and most have remained healthy since I met them, there are some who have not. A small number have died.

Carol was one of my Bosom Buddies. We were both single, our sons were the same age, and we became close friends. We joined the dragon boat team together. When her cancer returned I watched her live my worst nightmare. When she died in 2001, I was devastated and had pretty much made up my mind that I was done with the dragon boat team and anyone who had breast cancer.

I spoke at Carol’s funeral. Another Bosom Buddy played the harp. The first row on one side was reserved for Bosom Buddies. Several rows were reserved for dragon boaters. We shared stories of Carol and there was such a feeling of love for one another. I remember thinking that, while we will all lose people we care about in our lifetime, I couldn't imagine finding that level of support anywhere else.

Although Carol’s death was a terrible blow, I did continue dragon boating for several years. I have travelled with my breast cancer friends. We’ve shared birthdays and celebrations. We’ve supported one another through difficult times. We’ve laughed and cried together (thankfully there has been more laughter than tears). They’ve become like extended family, people that I can truly be myself with without judgement.

I can’t help but reflect on what my life might be like since my cancer returned if these women were not in my life today. I think I would feel very alone. Not that I don’t have caring family and friends who haven’t had cancer. But no one understands like my breast cancer friends. They pick me up when I’m down and get me out of the house. They know it’s OK to not know what to say when I get bad news. They know how to enjoy life and aren’t afraid to be ridiculously silly (I have pictures!). Most importantly, they make me laugh.

Would I recommend a support group to others? Cancer isn’t for wimps – and neither is attaching yourself to others who you may go through some difficult times with. But if I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I thank the universe for my community of loving, courageous, funny, insightful and wise breast cancer sisters every day.

Here are some of the amazing women I call friends. Others can be found throughout this blog.

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