Harnessing the Power of Female Friendships Amid an mBC Diagnosis
It was a hot August afternoon when I found out I had de novo metastatic breast cancer (mBC) – meaning I had never been diagnosed with breast cancer before – and when I was diagnosed, I learned the cancer had spread to my lungs. Although I knew what breast cancer was, I had no understanding of what metastatic meant and it took time to understand my situation. I was recently divorced, and my children were grown and on their own. With no significant partner in my life at the time, I naturally turned to my circle of girlfriends and realized quickly that women have a capacity to relate to others in a unique way. Those women, including my mother, jumped right in and helped with practical things like meals and errands without me having to ask; more importantly, they made me feel safe and seen.
Shortly after my diagnosis, I joined a breast cancer support group because I felt like a deer in the headlights and didn’t know what else to do. I had read some books and literature about the disease, but didn’t really feel knowledgeable on the subject. I thought I might learn a few things by listening to others who had already experienced treatment. Joining that group ended up being a great decision. I learned some valuable tips from the women in the group on how to deal with post-surgery issues and how to help manage side effects.
The camaraderie of being with other women who knew first-hand what I was going through was invaluable. I could say, for example, that I had just had a bilateral mastectomy and they knew instantly what I was feeling both physically and emotionally. They understood how it felt to lose a part of my identity as a woman and once again, I felt safe and seen.
Through that group, I was encouraged to join an exercise group specifically for women living with cancer. Once again, I found myself amongst a group of women who had “been there” and were striving to support their healing process. When we would meet, we talked about our cancer and sometimes just chatted about normal everyday things. I found myself with others who understood how it felt to have a body with scars and ailments – a body that needed some coaxing to be functional and active. While heading out for a swim, a woman pointed at the scar on my back from a lung surgery and said “Hey, I’ve got one of those too, we match!” Those women made me feel like I belonged. They made me feel a little more normal.
A woman in that group invited me to join another cancer support group specifically for women with metastatic breast cancer. I resisted joining because I thought it would be a group of women singularly focused on death and dying. But she persisted, and I finally relented and went to a meeting. Once there, I quickly learned my perception of women with mBC was completely off. The group comprised lively, vivacious women. They were smart, ambitious, and courageous – living life to the fullest. I learned there were many treatment options available to those with mBC, tips for how to manage side effects, and the importance and possibility of living out one’s dreams. Yes, we have lost many women in the group, but with their help I have learned how to cope with those losses.
I am very lucky to also have important male relationships in my life. My dad cared for me as only a father could. I also have also gotten married since my diagnosis, and my husband gives me support and understanding. Both relationships provided me with needed stability and confidence.
I’ve learned, however, that my female relationships are so important when dealing with a life-threating diagnosis. The women in my life bring unique gifts and diversity to the world no one else can give, and they understand how the healing of body and soul comes from nurturing. I’ve discovered the women I’ve met along the way have a special way of knowing what might help another woman feel better, even simple things like combing your hair and putting on a little lipstick! They understand the value of being tender and nurturing towards one another when life has let them down.
I’ve met everyday women, who aren’t in the spotlight, but who are powerful, brilliant, and talented in their own ways. To this day, women continue to empower and inspire me and, at the same time, make me feel like my own light is enough. I learned a support system is paramount to healing. Being single at the time of my diagnosis, women were my foundational support and for that I am forever grateful. Because of cancer, I’ve met some absolutely fabulous women who I otherwise would not have crossed paths with and am definitely a better person for knowing them.
During a time that I never imagined I would have to go through, the women I’ve encountered have provided me with support, care, and love. I’ve gone from feeling lost to thriving; I strive to live life to the fullest and experience the moments many women in my circle never got the chance to do - because life is worth living and memories are worth making.