On July 8th, 2020, on a beautiful and clear warm summer morning, I was nearing the end of a long hike with my friends. What started as a pandemic hiking group had morphed into a really beautiful close-knit group of women and I looked forward to the soft and deep sharing of our lives as we hiked. As we returned to the trailhead at a cute grassy family park with small children at play, my phone rang. I was expecting test results from my dermatologist, but instead it was a surprise call from my oncologist.
My friends sat on nearby benches to give me privacy, and I got THE news: Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. I was immediately sucked away from the park and my friends into a whirling snow globe storm of sounds and thoughts and futilely attempted to make sense of my oncologist’s words. I tried to convey the news to my friends, but I felt almost like a prisoner on visitor’s day speaking over a staticky phone and putting her hands to the thick glass unable to feel a loved one inches away. They were there, but I was in another world, all alone, lost in a swirling snow globe storm.
I have been in this place before. This was my third diagnosis. Each time, the world I knew would disappear, and the world I was now trapped in became filled with countless appointments, surgeries, late night desperate internet searches, chemo, endless days of radiation and deep dark scary fears. I had friends and family and for the first two a husband, but I still felt all alone, and separate, trapped in a different world. During my first cancer 20 years ago, my main preoccupation was for the welfare of my young children. Someone told me about the Wellness Community, now the Cancer Support Community, and I felt a sense of relief when I enrolled my children into their support group. Knowing they were being emotionally cared for let me spend more time doing what I needed to do to fight the cancer. With my second cancer I attended Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara’s meditation and yoga classes. It felt good that I was taking care of myself, mentally and physically.
This last one, this scary Stage IV diagnosis with a poor prognosis, spun me around till I lost my footing and was swirling along in the dense fierce dark snow globe storm. When I broke down over the phone with a Kaiser social worker, she kindly reminded me of Cancer Support Community's support groups. I joined the advanced breast cancer Zoom group the very next week. I was desperate. At first, I held back, not wanting to share the depth of my dark fears and concerns, and just listened intently as the women shared. I eventually started to feel comfortable and began to share and was deeply validated and supported even when I shared what I thought others would think petty and trivial concerns. They offered valuable advice, tips for dealing with the side effects of radiation and medications, and a deep sense of community.
It was some weeks ago, in the middle of one of our Zoom support group meetings, when I suddenly realized I was not all by myself in the stormy snow globe. I could plainly see that these beautiful women, although their individual stories were different, were right alongside me in the swirling snow and I was no longer alone, and this has made all the difference. I now feel I can face anything. Community is way stronger than cancer. Cheers to 30 years!