Does anyone else measure their life as BBC and ABC? I found many others who do that at the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester — it’s not so strange.
I was 62 when my malignancy was spotted during a routine mammogram, amazing the surgeon who admired the skill of the radiologist. Even though the lesion was small, it had broken through the duct, and Dr. H wasn’t comfortable doing less than a mastectomy. She partnered with the plastic surgeon: they operated in tandem. When I awoke, I was already being put back together. Physically, at least.
My 30+ career has centered around developing and facilitating support groups. (I had begun one at the Cancer Center at Strong, then worked with the Breast Cancer Support Group at Cancer Action, then had the opportunity to develop the Bereavement Program at Lifetime Care Hospice.). I had a naturally occurring support system among my colleagues at work — there were many of us diagnosed with BC in a span of 2 or 3 years. And, family and friends truly showed up for me — a crash course in how to be a loving friend!
I came late to BCCR through a side door. My path had crossed with Holly Anderson several times, most recently through a course called The Best Care Possible at the End of Life. She invited me to speak with BCCR staff about “Grief and Grieving”; opportunities to be a substitute facilitator arose. I welcomed this development and eagerly said “yes” when an opening came to work with women sharing Common Ground. In addition to all the best things support groups can offer (i.e. practical tips, ease of conversation, true understanding, subjects that even the most loving family and friends may be tiring of, and topics that feel taboo in our wider culture), they provide a simple opportunity to put feelings into words. Simple, but the premier counseling technique!
A surprise to me is how much I benefit from these exchanges, even 14 years after my diagnosis and surgery. While my brush with BC was minimal compared with many, I do relate to the anxiety, the body changes, the struggles with the unknown, the challenge to intimate relationships, the waiting for results and oncology consultations, and our sometimes seemingly unfeeling medical system. BCCR is a “haven in a heartless world”. (I must also praise the compassionate, smart and dedicated staff who set the tone and execute the many programs.)
When I was still working in bereavement care, I was impressed with the book The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Basel van der Kolk. The title speaks loudly to me: I (we) have been through something quite traumatic. Our body, mind and soul “remember”. Therefore, it continues to be important to share — even wordlessly. The chance to be with “sisters” (and occasional brothers) is hugely healing. Thank you!