In last week's post, I promised to write about my glorious return to running, but as this week marked the conclusion of my first cancer support group, I decided to go with that. You’ll just have to come back next week for the running!
I have a confession to make. I am a RENT-head. For those of you who know me well, this will come as no surprise. My teenage dream was to be involved in RENT in any way possible. I declared on many occasions, usually after the umpteenth time listening through the original Broadway cast recording and singing every role, that if there was a way for me to be involved in a production — even if it meant just sweeping the stage — I would do it. I never once imagined that I would somewhat come to live the score.
I have since lived my dream, and have been lucky enough to be involved in three different productions as a lighting op, cast member, and vocal coach. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to think there’s a bit of a curse between me and the musical whose message is “no day but today.”
Each time I’ve been a part of RENT, someone I know has gotten cancer.
The first time I did RENT, the mother of one of the cast members died from a prolonged battle with cancer.
The second time I did RENT, a close family member was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
The third time I did RENT, I got leukemia. A year later, I joined my first support group.
Early on in my treatment, an aunt, who is a breast cancer survivor, insisted I sign up for a support group. I barely had the strength to sit up yet alone sit in a circle and discuss my feelings, but six months after my transplant I was beginning to feel in desperate need for some extra support.
On top of the physical side effects of treatment, I was dealing with some major depression. Even with an amazingly patient and supportive husband, and network of people around me, I needed some extra help. Along with one-on-one counseling sessions, I took my aunt’s advice and joined a Young Adult Post Treatment Group at Cancer Care.
Cancer Care provides free counseling, support groups, resources, and financial assistance to people living with cancer. The Young Adult Post Treatment Group is for people aged 20-39 who have completed cancer treatment within the past year and a half, and meets once a week for twelve weeks.
The first session was also the first time since diagnosis that I caught a train by myself, and the first time I traveled into Manhattan for something that wasn’t a hospital appointment. It was exciting and depressing. Traveling up the elevator to the 22nd floor of the Cancer Care headquarters on 7th Avenue, it dawned on me that I was about to attend an actual support group. The song “Life Support” started playing in my head.
Look, I find some of what you teach suspect
Over the twelve weeks, the group became my life raft. No matter how tired I was, or how depressed/angry I was feeling, I made myself get to the sessions. Each week, we would share what was going on in our lives, and talk through our cancer related issues. The rules of the group and confidentially means I can’t share the stories here, but I will say that this truly lovely group of people, hailing from all walks of life, a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, were all dealing with the same issues that accompany life during and after the Big C.
Despite the wide range of diagnoses, we were all going through similar experiences. From hair loss and regrowth, weight loss and weight gain, depression, anger, frustration, dealing with families/friends/spouses, dealing with doctors, ongoing tests and results, fear of relapse, to what it’s like living post-chemo in the NYC summer, talking through life after cancer with a group of people going through the same thing was hugely helpful. It didn’t make the problems go away, but it was a relief to know we weren’t alone in our experiences.
This week, the final week, we looked at pictures of each other before and after treatment. We laughed at old hair styles, and how much we have all been physically changed by treatment. We compared scars and port sites, and shared pictures of our families and pets. I am immensely grateful to each person in the group, for their personal strength, their humor, their willingness to offer the tissue box, for sharing their stories, and just for holding space. Our moderator was wonderful, and did an amazing job of guiding the conversation and providing insights.
My support group may not have sung a single note, or even preached about living each day as if it were our last, but it certainly uplifted and provided me with a supportive space to share my experience.
I'll hopefully be able to join the group again when it starts back up in October, and I’ve also signed up for a leukemia specific group which starts up in a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, I don’t think I’ll be signing up for a production of RENT any time soon…
An amended version of this post was featured on CancerCare's "Stories of Hope and Help."
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