I too am a survivor of cancer. I was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer 14 years ago. I was then delightfully naïve about cancer and said to my internist two now-remarkable responses. “Yeah! At least, it is not appendicitis.” And, even more innocent was my question, “So what is stage 5?”
As a love letter to the universe for my recovery, I initiated Nancy’s List in 2006, a non-profit committed to enhancing the quality of the lives of cancer patients and those who love and care for them. It is the goal of Nancy’s List that “No one will ever go through cancer alone.” We address the emotional well-being of those persons who are living with cancer, a critical piece in the healing process all-too-often overlooked by the overwhelmed medical profession.
I was recently invited to speak to a group of men who are living with prostate cancer in Austin, Texas. This is the Mike Jones Memorial Chapter of UsToo. My host requested that I speak of fear and uncertainty in the healing process.
As an ovarian cancer survivor, I had attended two very somber support groups with my sisters who are living with ovarian cancer. I had also addressed many issues with participants in a variety of cancer support groups. Some of these experiences were positive; the ovarian group less so.
I overly prepared for meeting with these men since I anticipated that “men don’t talk about personal matters” and that there would be little interactive conversation. I had a ‘script’ that would fill the time format.
Much to my surprise and delight, I found a “community’ of men who were very willing to speak their truth. They were extraordinarily open with their experiences. They shared compassion and sincerity. They were trusting and trustworthy. I have often been struck by the immediate intimacy that occurs between fellow cancer patients, “kindred spirits,” as we discuss problems and possible solutions. These men were outstanding “brothers” on the healing journey. As evidence of this camaraderie, I observed that they didn’t want to leave each other when the program was over. They lingered, laughed, shared contact info, and showed the deepest respect and care for one another.
I came away thinking that some sort of ‘magic’ occurred in that room filled with 30 or so men. My partner had accompanied me to the meeting and was similarly “blown away.” He doesn’t have a diagnosis of prostate cancer and always wonders when it will be his turn. He said that, if that day comes, he would immediately join the group.
I am a psychologist and always curious about what ‘works’. These men came prepared to share their vulnerabilities, fears, and grief. They faced their fears with continued faith and hope. They coped with their anger and depression with a profound sense of gratitude for their survival. They were eager for information and solutions to their most intimate issues and were willing to explore all possibilities for continued wellness. I could not have anticipated their awareness and strength, despite some serious setbacks in their treatments. The overwhelming theme was a combination of hope and gratitude.
I feel so honored to witness the transformation in their lives as they truly believe “no one will ever go through cancer alone.”