Recently, the nursing staff at the infusatorium, where I receive treatment, took it upon themselves to start a cancer support group. The monthly meetings are open to all cancer patients and family members in the Mid-Columbia area, regardless if they receive oncology care at the Hood River Hospital.
The local hospital’s meetings remind me that cancer devastates the lives of families. As a wizened veteran of the cancer wars, I’d forgotten how the initial diagnosis upsets the routines of living we carefully construct. Suddenly, life is interrupted and the future gets cloudy.
At the first meeting I attended, a few individuals poignantly expressed the shock of learning cancer had entered their world. Disappointing prognoses led to dismay. At the second, a daughter delivered a moving presentation on caregiving for her mother. Through her we learned that end of life issues come with both grief and gratitude.
In 2009, following my stem cell transplant, I joined a support group in Portland specific to my disease, multiple myeloma. Guest speakers thoroughly informed our group about the biology of myeloma. We learned what to expect in available treatment options and that improved treatments might soon create new standards. Throughout the next six years of treatment changes, I always felt comfortable with the decisions for I had become a lay expert in myeloma, well informed via the support group experience.
I made good friends at these Portland meetings. I also lost several to the irrepressible myeloma. Still, as the years went along, my attendance waned: since retiring, I no longer enjoy the 120 mile round trip.
Periodically, I also get together with three Hood River friends for breakfast. We all have cancer: lymphoma, breast, brain, and my blood disease. We garnish the morning’s omelets with comic relief. Indulging in the dark wit of survivors, we refer to ourselves as The Final Four. Our “cancer” breakfasts go back several years. We’ve outlasted early doubts about the future, for the future has come and gone, and now, come again.
I appreciate the connection that occurs at all these support groups. It never grows old. Cancer isolates the haves from the have nots. Patients want to talk about their experience and provide support to what others are going through. As an example, brain fog and fatigue are difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend when, for all intents and purposes, I appear healthy. The reality is more complicated, for even if I am stable, cancer has changed me.
Each of these groups meets in December. I plan to attend. I expect a relaxing month of connecting again with those outside of my immediate circle of family and friends. Furthermore, I will commemorate my 8th year since diagnosis. It’s more luck than an accomplishment but I understand, thanks to my support groups, that good fortune is part of the deal. I intend to run with it as far as it will take me …
PS: Results from the fourth cycle of my new treatment regimen can be viewed in The Drill.