This entry was written by Randi Rentz. Randi values her experience with support groups and credits them as the source that gave her hope to overcome her journey with breast cancer:
During my year in the “Pink Bubble” I decided to check out one of the local breast cancer support groups in my area. I’ve never thought of myself as a “joiner,” but rather a “multi-task doer.” I can pay my own bills, caulk a tub, whip up a dinner for two, four or six people all while doing laundry, talking on the phone and putting on my makeup. I always felt like Wonder Woman; however, my superhero status was dwindling with my breast cancer diagnosis. My golden lasso no longer swung at a swift pace; instead, it came to a sudden halt. I had been thinking about joining a support group for a while, but like usual, I took my time before actually attending a meeting.
I decided to research many support groups so I could find the right match for me. At the age of 42, I didn’t know if I should join a young group, ages 25-40 or the older group 45+. I didn’t want to be way too old and I didn’t want to be way too young. I was caught in between the age gap and didn’t know if I would have any commonalities with either group. I was scared to admit that my experience and background would not be the same as the other women. I no longer felt like a super hero; instead, I felt like Minnie Mouse.
Although many support groups vary in age, through research I found that all of them have a common element. They are all facilitated by social workers, nurses, therapists or psychologists for the most part. To me, this meant each group would take on a life of its own. I quickly surmised that support groups are not therapy groups, and there’s a real distinction. I learned that the facilitator assists in guiding the group along, and identifies many issues that may require extra support during the session. This means teaching people that everyone’s breast cancer experience is uniquely theirs, and someone going through a bad time doesn’t mean that everybody will go through a bad time or experience the same thing. I discovered through research that support groups help validate experiences.
With my new found information, I decided to attend the 45+ local breast cancer support group. The first meeting was located in the basement of a hospital, near the cafeteria. I walked into the spacious meeting room where there were 6 of us, plus two facilitators. The group was a nice mix of ages making me feel somewhat comfortable. I studied the women and felt their stares on me, checking me out from head to toe. I volunteered to speak first, and thought I would break the ice. I told them fragments of my story and realized it was the first time I had discussed this cancer stuff out loud to a group of people I did not know other than my medical team. Listening to myself discuss my cancer experience was very surreal, yet liberating. I felt like I finally owned my cancer experience, and felt validated to do so.
Listening to others was very comforting, compelling, hopeful and just plain emotional. I listened to two people discuss their fears of losing their jobs, health insurance and homes. I listened to another woman who was very anguished about beginning her chemotherapy treatment. That’s when it hit me. A support group is a safe place to share feelings, whether it is worry, or genuine empathy. I learned it is a place where others can gently advise me, encourage me and listen without judging me.
I managed to chime in and give a little advice and encouragement to women. I even made people laugh about “Cancerville.” After all, we all understood where we were all coming from. At that moment, all of us in our little support group had an inner super hero inside of us ready to conquer the outside world.
I learned that by giving a few moments of compassion, genuine care and support, that I was giving those things to myself as well. That’s what a good support group is all about. What you give comes right back at you.
Have you ever attended a support group? Why or why not? If you have, did you find the experience beneficial? Who or what is your greatest source of support? Comment here or on our Facebook page. Be sure to call LBBC’s Survivors’ Helpline to learn more about support groups in your area: (888) 753-LBBC (5222).