Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Personal Heroes: My Young Adult Cancer Support Group

We were the "Thursday Night Support Group" at Vital Options: Support for Young Adults with Cancer in North Hollywood, CA. We committed to coming for 12 weeks per session, every Thursday night from 7 to 9 PM and our group leader was Karen Redding, LCSW. I joined the group after I completed my cancer treatments in the Fall of 1988.

We sat together in a room and talked ab
out how our lives changed when we were diagnosed with cancer. We shared about the tortures of cancer treatment, the uncertainty of remission, the heartbreak of recurrence and the fear of our own mortality. We ranted about how stupid cancer had interfered with our lives and plans and relationships. We talked, listened, cried, shared, laughed and supported each other during our time in group together.

It is amazing to me how we came together as a ragtag family and how the dual experiences of cancer and the support group forged a strong bond between us. On the surface, we came from different backgrounds and upbringings and I of
ten think that we would never have even met each other under normal circumstances. As much as it took away from us, it was the cancer that brought us together, opened us up, brought out our caring and connecting selves and helped us see the similarities among us.

The members of the group called Karen, our leader, facilitator and guide, a "soft steamroller." She didn't let us just blurt things out without taking the time to explore them. This was not always an easy or enjoyable process, but Karen knew it was necessary for us to feel our feelings, talk about our darkest fears and work through our issues until we could see a resolution. We each had our turn facing the "soft steamroller," yet seeing my fellow group members make it through the group process to find their own personal truth and answers gave me the courage to let go and go with the flow when it was my turn.

Through participation in the group, we all figured out how to live our lives, again, now that we were cance
r patients and cancer survivors. For me personally, the group helped me find the courage to get back up, dust myself off and start my life again. Among other things, I was nervous about going back to UCLA to complete my Bachelor's degree; all my friends had graduated without me and I faced senior classes with co-eds who all knew each other but didn't know me. With the group supporting me, I didn't feel so out-of-touch and out-of-place when I returned to campus because they were there for me, during group and outside of group, if I needed someone to talk to, was struggling with fitting in, felt lonely or overwhelmed.

It's been almost 20 years since the group disbanded and yet I can still remember my ragtag family: Wayne, Benita, Katie, Jade, Gail, Julie, Cameron and me. Some of us are no longer here: Jade died of metastatic breast cancer, Gail died from lung cancer and Julie died from metastatic colon cancer. The last time I saw Katie and Cameron was at my 1998 wedding in Marina del Rey; Benita and Wayne wer
e invited too but could not make it.

As the years have passed, we all have moved on and away from each other.
Though we no longer are together, the memory of the bond that was established, nurtured and grew between us in group still exists deep inside me to this day. I will always be a member of the "Thursday Night Support Group" and they will always be my family, where ever they are. Their love and support while I put my life back together after beating cancer is what makes my fellow "Thursday Night Support Group" members heroes to me.

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Kairol Rosenthal said...

Great blog! I'm living chronically with thyroid cancer and am also taking care of my FIL with Alzheimer's. What a combo!

Check out my blog and book if you'd like!

blog http://everythingchangesbook.com/

Selena said...

Hi Kairol,

Thanks for your comments. I checked out your blog and added you to my blog role. Thanks for the suggestion.

You are certainly right that everything changes ... it's seems like that is the real theme of life, isn't it?

Hope you are doing well and be sure to take time to care for yourself. I put a lot of effort in finding good providers to help care for my Dad so I could step back, care for myself and feel confident that my Dad was being cared for even when I wasn't there.

Take care,