|New found friend Linda, taken during chemo when I first met her which happens to be her birthday.|
One thing that is common to both of us is we are both BRCA positive cancer patients. The Breast Cancer (BRCA) gene mutation increases the risk of breast cancer by 85% and increases the risk of ovarian cancer by 45%.
We talked a lot on our first meeting. From where she could get a good iPad cover to more serious matters like cancer. She became like a big sister to me, with tips on how to manage chemo's side-effects because she has been through it I guess for so many times. I admire how she is still standing strong fighting and continuously believing that after all these years, chemo will help cure her ovarian cancer. Aside from home remedies to alleviate the side-effects, she also mentioned a support group that she goes to regularly.
She invited me to join F.O.R.C.E., which stands for Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. It's an organization of those who have hereditary genes BRCA 1 and 2 or have a family history of cancer. Having the BRCA gene like I do, we are at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer at any point in our lives.
I was so caught up with my chemo that I didn't contact them for a long time. I was afraid that I cannot commit fully in attending the meetings once I start because I might not feel too well all the time. I was also too shy or afraid to be in a big group to share my story.
But all my fears subsided once I felt the warm reception from those with whom I've shared my story. The meeting was attended by about 30 women. We broke into two groups and started giving our introductions.
Every woman's story was different. Every woman's reason for joining was unique. I thought I would feel alienated being young with cancer but I was proved wrong. In our smaller group, 4 of us were relatively young and 10 were older. One woman had almost exactly the same experience like I had. Being the newest in the group, I thought I would not have anything to contribute because I was pretty sure they all have gone through what I went through. But as I was introducing myself and my experience, everyone started crying. I couldn't help but cry too. I exceeded the one-minute limit of introduction but the moderator did not care. It was a moment that they all made me feel I was not alone in this journey.
After hearing everyone's story, the group opened ourselves to questions and answers based on our own experiences. I was surprised to find out that the one male in the group was a resource person. Dr. Richard Frieder, Medical Director of Genetic Testing/ Cancer Risk Assessment & Prevention, assisted us in understanding the medical side of our experiences. We all have questions of "where do we go from here?" .
Knowing we have the BRCA gene, we are all faced with the challenge of whether we will take steps to face our circumstance head-on or do we just acknowledge our risk? What are the choices we have to make? What do we see in our future?
I have been anxious about this surgery ever since I was told that I need to get my ovaries removed before I turn 40. But after hearing the stories of three women who have proactively had oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovary), I felt relieved. They are doing well, living well and have taken the dark cloud over their heads out because of the surgery.
My share of experiences also helped some women who were contemplating on what to expect with double mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation. Some of these women have not gone through any of these yet and I was so happy to be of help.
In the end, we were all invited to a "show and tell" where we can show our surgeries and reconstructions so that those who are trying to decide what kind they will have can have an informed decision. At first I was shy to show my breasts and abdominal scars but seeing how it will help other women, I became open to sharing mine.
Despite our unique experiences, one thing I found out is common among us : all of us had our families and friends to lean on at this time of difficulty. We could not have been strong enough without the love and support that we get from everyone around us. Physically, mentally and emotionally we have all been challenged by cancer. It didn't matter whether one is young or older. It affects our lives all just the same.
This group and our own little circles of life have been our stronghold. The ropes that held us.
I am so thankful that I decided to join the group. From here on, I will become a source of strength for other cancer warriors like myself at the same time gain courage from them. It is something I look forward to. Just like I look forward to seeing my family every day that I wake up and hearing from friends all over the world.
The odds are 1 out of 3 people worldwide know of someone who has cancer. A little note, a pat on the back, a simple hello will make a difference in that person's life dealing with the big C. Thank you, you all held my hand through it all with your love.
P.S. I want to share this song by Martina Mcbride written for breast cancer warriors and survivors, their families and their friends. I also want to share an article contributed by David Haas, one of our blog readers who has been researching about the importance of support groups as a coping mechanism among cancer patients.