Man standing in front of a group of people. Some people are standing out and others are fading into the background

Things We Have in Common

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a day with several other cancer patients and advocates. None had myeloma nor even blood cancer.  The type of cancers these folks had were across the board. Some had been in remission for a while, some were recently achieved remission, some had relapsed and some were chronic (including me). And I have to say, meeting this group was eye-opening and hugely impactful.

Prior to my diagnosis with myeloma nearly 8 years ago, I had roughly zero experience with knowing anyone close to me who had cancer. Then I was diagnosed with a cancer I had never even heard of. And now over time, I know a fair number of fellow myeloma patients. I have a whole new circle of friends who are fellow myeloma patients.  Additionally, through my volunteer activities with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I’ve gotten to know some people with other types of blood cancer.

We are not alone

Since my diagnosis and over time, my social circle has narrowed quite a bit. It’s my wife, my dog, immediate family and one or two close friends. Everyone else in my circle is pretty much a myeloma patient. And while I knew that the physical challenges from any cancer is unique and difficult. I had come to believe that myeloma patients are dealing with some special emotional challenges that other patients don’t have. We have incurable cancer, we’re typically never in remission and generally what drugs work today may not work tomorrow. It’s a cloud hovering over me that not a lot of people understand.

Well, I was very wrong. Spending a day with other patients opened my eyes to the challenges, both emotional and physical, that all cancer patients face. Fear of relapse, permanent side effects, financial difficulties, social challenges. These are some of the things that can be constant, whether the person is chronic or in remission. I learned there are some real commonalities between us all. There are things we all struggle with.

Circle of survivors, friends

I also learned or perhaps accepted that the anger I tote around for how cancer has changed my life, is more intense than I realized. Before meeting my fellow survivors, I brazenly claimed that my anger motivated me and kept me fighting and that the anger wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is partly true, but there is more to it. The anger can also be stifling and debilitating. While the folks I met to deal with the anger of how cancer has changed their lives in different ways, they do all give back to the community and work on their mental health.  I try to give back, but my mental health work might be lacking.  I’ve had a couple of therapists, who do the trick for a while, but I eventually grow tired of the constant suggestions of how to look forward and how to practice gratitude. I agree with this. But I’m lacking the person I can talk to about how mad I am.  Since meeting this inspiring group of survivors, I’m focused, perhaps obsessed, with how mad I am at myself, at others and at the myeloma for how it has changed my life.

But knowing I have a circle of survivors, who are also friends, I can reach out to, is helpful and beneficial. I can’t and we can’t go it alone. Let’s all vow to work on this and support each other.

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