Do-It-Yourself Support Systems for Cancer Survivors

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When I was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, I sought out a multidisciplinary approach to battle my illness, after learning that outcomes tend to be more favorable when compared to following traditional approach. As part of this dynamic approach, I met with various medical and social services professionals.

I met with a social worker one time, and I’m sure she noticed the glazed-over look in my eyes when she suggested I might be interested in one of the hospital system’s “support groups” (insert eye roll here.) Thank you, but NO THANK YOU! I’m a Taurus and a redhead - in other words- I’m ferociously stubborn. My intent was to muscle my way through this temporary thing that is cancer…and I did, but not without a few bumps and bruises along the way.

In hindsight, I probably could have benefited from a supportive ear, but I didn’t think I needed it. I had a great boyfriend, parents who loved me, and some of the most awesome friends. However, none of them had cancer, and while they tried to be supportive in the best way they knew how, they weren’t in my shoes, and I couldn’t expect them to know how I felt or what to say. 

Fortunately for me, I did get through treatment - which included a bilateral mastectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy and a couple reconstructive surgeries - and I continue to be screened for ovarian cancer since I have the BRCA1 gene mutation, which caused a whole new set of anxieties. On top of that, my mom was re-diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer to the lung, which is often caused by the BRCA 1 gene mutation we both carry.

Ultimately, I decided to leverage my experience into becoming a positive force. I have become involved in many local breast cancer-related fundraising activities, and regularly participate in ways in which I can ‘give back’ to the breast cancer community. Last year I was one of a 15 women selected as a Miami Model of Courage by the Ford Warriors in Pink Campaign - a project dedicated to helping those touched by breast cancer through actions that support, inspire and empower patients, survivors and co-survivors throughout their journey. While I appreciated the ‘idea’ of being a role model, I didn’t expect that I would receive so much more than I was giving back.

Through Ford Warriors in Pink, I met a wonderful group of ladies, but more than that, a special set of FRIENDS in three of them. The four of us have an unwritten bond, tethered together by an illness which allows us to be supportive and empathic toward one another, but we also really LIKE each other. We have a daily group chat and are able to turn even a seemingly ordinary day into something special.

Support systems don’t necessary have to be formal and organized, or even in first person.  They may develop organically and be flexible in approach. This group of ladies is everything I never knew I needed and I’m so glad to have them in my life.  They are my friends, connected by a common illness that took so much from each of us, but allowed us to gain so much more in return. All throughout life, we are faced and will continue to be faced with stressful, disappointing, heartbreaking and difficult times. But we don’t have to face those hard times alone. I always knew that it was important to have a support system, but I never really understood how important that was until now.



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