There is an inside group, a club no one wanted to join, of cancer survivors, no matter what kind of cancer the one has had, there is an automatic membership when a diagnosis comes. The chemotherapy treatments might be a different cocktail or a pill; there might be radiation or surgery. It all has the same goal, kill what is killing us. Cancer.
It is a lonely feeling when the diagnosis comes. “It is Hodgkin Lymphoma,” I remember the surgical oncologist saying on the phone. I had worried over many possible reasons for the lump in my neck, and I knew Lymphoma was a real possibility, but it seemed a distant prospect. Then it was there, and it came for me through the phone, and for the rest of my life, I cannot forget that sentence. The day the diagnosis came, I knew my life would never be the same.
Having cancer feels isolating
It is isolating to know there is cancer living and growing inside you. After the shock, when we start to let others into the journey, it becomes clear that we are not alone after all. There are others in this harrowing club. When I started my membership, I met someone through a mutual friend who was a few months ahead of me to treat the same cancer. At first, I was apprehensive about opening up to someone I didn’t know. I am a private person, and it felt strange to talk with someone who only had cancer in common with me. My “cancer friend” soon became a lifeline. She knew what I could expect, she shared with me the insights I longed for, and we became real friends, not just because of cancer, though that is what brought us together and certainly a bond that remains.
One of my childhood friends was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. It broke my heart to know she was joining the club. It is comforting to connect with other cancer survivors, but one never wants family or friends to determine what the membership entails. I was filled with concern and caring for my friend. If I could have taken cancer from her, I would have gladly done so. Yet, it weighed heavily. Cancer is fear, anger, sadness, courage and becomes a part of you even when it is gone.
A community to support us
There are so many things that I can help with to prepare for chemo and eventually radiation and all of the unwanted side effects. Still, I don’t know all I can do to help because my cancer was different. My diagnosis was more clear-cut, while there are many ways to diagnose breast cancer and its cause. I cannot know their journeys, but I know what it is like to be in the cancer club, and there are ways I can help.
We can lift each other. The community of cancer survivors can support one another and make sure we never feel alone in this journey. Knowing that someone understands the pain, the fear, the fatigue, and all that we endure is comfort. As tricky and isolating as it can feel to receive a cancer diagnosis, knowing a community of survivors comes with the club.