It is not a group I wanted to be part of or even know about. But on the third Tuesday evening of each month, I stroll into a nondescript hospital meeting room, complete with tasty dinner offerings and savory desserts, and share information about my life with cancer.
I settle in with 12 or so other women who have stage four breast cancer that has traveled into bones and, in some cases, seeped into other organs such as the brain, pancreas and liver. This is a specific cancer as it does not go into remission and can only be treated.
I became part of this clan a few months ago after being diagnosed last November with a version of what the other women have. Keep in mind, I had this at least a year before diagnosis, hence my handing over the elaborate details of my illness to a medical malpractice law firm, which soon will decide if it has interest in taking on the case.
On my first trip to the group, one of my close friends, a former social worker, accompanied me and gave me her seal of approval. “It was a good session,” she said after we left.
Being terribly judgmental, at the first meeting, I noticed several of the women were overweight. Some needed to update their clothing. They lacked well-styled hair or a trace of make up. Ages ranged from 40s to 80s. Many have husbands — mine died five years ago. Several have successfully battled this miserable type of cancer for years. To keep me in reality, I was clued in that several had died and were still missed.
As the group talked, my early disdain subsided. The process is each person gives an update of their health status and what has happened since the last meeting. The two women who started the session each talked for 30 minutes — too long. The hospital leaders, kind and tactful, had to remind them to keep it succinct. I won’t need reminding, I thought.
I kept my status to the point, and the women gave me bits of advice regarding the relentless nerve pain I endure in my thigh from tumors pressing on nerves. Their advice was plentiful.
As a couple of hours passed, I started seeing the likeability of most of the women. They were friendly, had a sense of humor and were generous. One brought her guitar and sang a self-composed song cleverly entitled “I’m a Uni-boober.” It had been played before and clearly was a crowd favorite. Her baggy t-shirt did not belie the fact that what she sang about was true.
The song was surreal but this group embraced it. They embrace humor to cope — something I need to do more often.
After three hours, I headed home with my friend and knew I would return the next month. How nice to spend some time eating and talking with women who are dealing with many of same health challenges I am.
The next month, my daughter drove me and another woman in the group who could not drive as she is still recuperating from brain surgery. I was more engaged and realized I belonged with these folks because I have what they have. My struggles are different — pain and more pain — but I’m not on chemo pills or a chemo IV like a lot of them. I simply take an anti-hormonal pill to keep my cancer tumors at bay. For that, I am thankful.
For now, my cancer is “stable,” which means the tumors aren’t shrinking, but they aren’t growing either. After six months, my mobility is improved. No need for a walker, periodic use of a cane and the ability to walk faster and more assured. I’m able to ride my bike a few blocks and know I will progress.
I sadly missed the last meeting because I didn’t feel good after trying a new pain pill — oxycodone. But I’ll be at the next one. After all, these are my people.