Many times, in group dynamics you have a cast of characters. The person who dominates the discussion. Maybe it’s his first group meeting and has been bottling up stuff for some time. Maybe lives alone (or feels alone) and yearns for companionship of others. Others who “understand”. But I swear can yammer on and on and on. I’ve grown to be much more patient with this type of human. Before cancer, I would have told him he was being rude and should allow others to talk. Or I may have left the group altogether never to return instead of speaking out. Not now. Now, I listen. I take a deep breath and clear out the clutter in my head and I listen. I smile when he glances my way to encourage him to keep talking. As an acknowledgement I understand where he is coming from. As it turns out, if I really “listen”, I realize I share his fears, his frustrations, his “but I was never sick before this happened”. We just have different ways of expressing them.
Of course, there’s the curmudgeon. She just doesn’t seem to like people. Hates her circumstance prior to cancer and now, well, she’s just unbearable. Doesn’t have a positive thing to say to anyone or about anything. But for some reason she shows up to group. It seems she stills needs the warmth of human companionship. The comfort of understanding folk who listen to her regardless of her defensive bark. I, too, relate to this person. I am angry. Hell, I’m pissed when I let myself go there. I had a wonderful, blessed, existence before cancer. And yet, I can get right down in the muck in the blink of an eye. If I let myself. I rarely do that though. For me, it’s not a “why me?” thing. I don’t feel badly for myself and don’t want others to feel badly for me. Just want people to support me. Just be there for me. And so, me and the curmudgeon, we are there for each other, we co-exist and relate to each other nicely.
Sadly, he just celebrated his retirement only to find out a month later he has cancer. Or she lost her job just a month prior to receiving her diagnosis. She's had to sell her home to pay for her treatments, and now lives in her car. No health insurance, little hope. Yet she comes to group. We share our resources and our hope.
And there’s ALWAYS someone who has had their road with cancer way bumpier and twisted than anything you’re driving on. She was diagnosed with lymphoma at 22, thrived and had an awesome family - an awesome husband she is still married to and a wonderful, caring son who is an addict and fearful of relapsing without his mother. And her biggest fear is he will relapse when she dies. Later in life, she was diagnosed with breast cancer that has since spread to her lungs, her liver, her bones. The medical community gave up on her years ago. Yet, she’s still here. Thriving the only way she knows how. Smiling, smoking, selling everything “unimportant” and traveling the world with her husband, eating whatever she wants. She’s made her peace with her God. She has picked out her burial plot (including a seating bench for visitors) under a majestic tree she noticed while driving by. And yet she’s scared to die. At the end of every meeting I make a point to hug her and to tell her she’s wonderful. Every meeting, I worry may be her last. I want her to know I appreciate her and her contribution to my healing every Wednesday evening. Sadly, I have not seen her in weeks.....
My family and friends want desperately for things to be as they were BC (before cancer). I’d like that too. However, after having examined close up just how fragile life is coupled with having your body fail you in such a tragic way changes you. Forever. In this group, I can confide my fears, worries, share my coping skills and pain to total strangers who may know me better in some ways than do most folks in my life.
Outside the group, I try and focus on the positive changes cancer has brought me. How much sharper the sunrises are, how beautiful the sound of birds in the morning stillness, how the smell of a flower brings such delight. My grandma Arlene lived this kind of life. She lived to be 94, and she understood how to live for the moment. I’ve since learned this joy through cancer.
If I can from time to time wrap myself in the caring and fellowship of others fighting this disease, I am convinced my remaining years will be brighter, clearer, and more compassionate and meaningful than my first 55.
(a birthday wish. happy birthday to me.)