As a breast cancer patient, I tried a few support groups. However, I couldn’t relate to others’ situations and didn’t quite fit in. What bothered me was people’s unwillingness or inability to talk about their innermost struggles and fears.
At Gilda’s Club, a monthly support group was worth checking out. It was moderated by a social worker who was also a breast cancer survivor.
I sat down and felt an instant camaraderie with everyone. They were bitter and angry about family and friends rejecting them. I was bitter and angry about the same issues. They were honest about their feelings and felt no need to gloss over the pain of breast cancer with positive mantras that they didn’t believe.
They resonated with me.
I also met Faun that night, which was a bonus.
After the group session was over, these individuals invited me out to dinner. They always grabbed a bite to eat after the support group session. I obliged and was grateful to have found a bunch of kindred spirits who were very inclusive. And even better, everyone in the group had become friends with each other. The group had originally started in their hospital (so they all had the same doctors), but then the hospital cancelled the support group sessions, so they asked Gilda’s Club if a support group could be hosted there. And Gilda’s Club agreed.
That’s how our paths crossed.
We all got along very well, and, over time, we all became close friends. I mean really close and connected – like the pieces of wood that form a tree trunk.
I felt the support group was my salvation. We called each other often and went clothing shopping, apple picking, out to eat, and so on. We even called each other when we were at the doctor’s office panicking. These people helped me through my divorce. I helped them with their problems. We all helped Faun when she had her recurrence.
But eventually something started gnawing at me.
I was a patient at a different hospital than the others. Every once in awhile, one of the group members would make a disparaging remark about my oncologist (based solely on my treatment protocol) or hospital and brag about her doctors and hospital, which were more well-known.
At first the comments were occasional, and I reminded the group that breast cancer treatment is different for each patient, depending on his or her needs. But my defense of my doctor and hospital was futile. Eventually, more and more individuals made harmful comments about my medical care and made me feel like an outcast.
So I tried a different approach: I asked them to kindly stop cutting down my doctors and hospital because it hurt me – it didn’t support me – when they said such harmful things.
The disparaging remarks abated for some time. But then they were back in full force. I would have distanced myself more for the group had it not been for my fragile status of “survivor” newbie and Faun, who was ill and whom we were all taking care of.
Then something happened that angered the group and turned them permanently against me.
Faun switched hospitals: from theirs to mine.
Unpleased with her medical care, she asked me if she could see my oncologist for a second opinion. I gave her his contact information, and she came back from that appointment resolved to have him as her oncologist.
The group took Faun’s “defection” to my hospital as a personal affront and allowed their petty pride to kill the friendship between them and me. The tree trunk had done the unthinkable: it unraveled.
The group members accused me of brainwashing Faun into ditching her doctor for mine. I told them that Faun was an adult and made her own decision, without my influence. Still, the group could not understand why Faun chose my oncologist over the ones at their hospital.
Whenever a support group member visited Faun at my, now her, hospital, the group member made a point of telling me of flawed services and the incompetent staff. The cut-downs of Faun’s medical care increased exponentially.
The group, in their righteous anger, started lashing out at me in other ways. One group member and my closest friend after Faun hurt me when she told me that my plans for adopting a baby were flawed, according to the group. I once told her that being a mother was my dream and though chemotherapy rendered me infertile, I could still realize that dream. Her response was, “Some dreams are not meant to come true.”
At that point, I lost it. I yelled at her, “You are not the one to tell me that. I have other friends and I don’t need you!” I hung up on her, and we have never spoken since.
When Faun died, the group blamed her death on my hospital, my oncologist, and, indirectly, on me. I was now permanently estranged from them.
To this day, I’m proud to say I do not even communicate with these individuals. I do regret that I had to endure such bullying during my first years after treatment and while Faun was going through her recurrence.
Have you ever tried traditional support groups?
If not, why not? If so, please feel free to share your experience.
Tags: breast cancer, Gilda's Club, support group