This week, like last week, and the week before that, there is a new member. So we all go around and share our cancer stories, one by one, and then the new woman goes last. She is newly diagnosed, crying, telling her truths, and we nod our heads in understanding and empathy.
I'm at my weekly cancer support group. I struggled with whether or not I wanted to go. I didn't know if I wanted to meet women who are further down the line, who may not survive their disease, or who have had remissions after years of clear test results. My anxiety is better - helped by yoga and meditation and reading lots and lots of books written by cancer survivors - but nothing compares to the gritty one-on-one with other women who understand exactly how you feel.
I decided to go because of recovery from alcoholism. I realized that one of the best benefits of recovery meetings is it gets it me out of my own head, even if only for a couple of hours. And just like in recovery meetings, some of the stories are scary. Someone is waiting for a test result that will be the difference between living her life as it is now, and more grueling treatments for her. She has been waiting a whole week for the results, and I find myself waiting with her, saying prayers, sending all the positive energy I can her way. We exchanged emails, made that first tentative step toward connection. It feels good, right.
When it's my turn to share I am surprised by the emotion in my voice, by the fear that bubbles up from deep inside. I hear myself saying things I didn't even realize I was feeling; just plunking my emotions on the floor in the middle of the circle - ker-plop - and I see their heads nodding in understanding and sympathy. They get it. The really, really get it.
It's exactly like recovery meetings. Exactly. Nothing compares to being in that safe circle of people who walk the path with you, or have walked it before you and can offer help, resources or a shoulder to cry on. They were total strangers until we started talking. Now we are a sisterhood. Nothing compares to the feeling of wrapping my arms around the new girl, the one who is just now coming to terms with her diagnosis, who is waiting to start treatment.
The waiting is agony. We all reassure her that despite the trials of treatment, it feels better to be in motion, to be doing something about the disease.
I leave feeling lighter, unburdened. My thoughts during the week stray more often to the other members of my group than they do to myself. I still have worries. I'm still struggling with anxiety, but I'm getting outside help, doing yoga daily, meditating as often as I can. I have to get babysitters to go to yoga, and to go to the cancer support group, and in the past I used this as an excuse not to go.
No more excuses. It's self-love I'm trying to cultivate, and it's hard. Yanking the kids off the beach because I have to go to therapy still feels selfish. But I'm doing it anyway, because I have to. I won't make it without the support. I had to shake Finn off my leg as I left for group the other night (NO! Momma. Not another meeting!) but shake him off I did, with a lump in my throat and a determined set to my jaw.
Moms have a hard time putting themselves first. But if I go down, it all goes down, and so I try to see it as the least selfish thing I could do. But it's still hard. Between cancer group and alcoholism recovery meetings I'm asking a lot from my kids and my husband, and there are days I shake my proverbial fist at needing so much help.
But it works. And I tell myself everyday, during meditation, that I'm worth it. Because my diseases of self-doubt, anxiety and addiction sneak in the back door when I tell myself I'm not worth it. That's their trump card, and I'm using everything I have to keep that trump card away.
Being vulnerable, asking for so much help, talking about it here - it still makes me itchy. I run into someone in the grocery store who says "I read your post - how're you doing?" and it makes me feel strange that she knows so much about me and I don't know anything about her. But that's what being vulnerable is all about - it's not a quid pro quo - 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' - at least not as it pertains to blogging.
And I feel better when I write about it. People come out of the woodwork to share their own stories, struggles and successes with me because of it, and that's a blessing.
This post is part of Heather of the EO's Just Write series, and exercise in top-of-mind free writing. To take part in this, come join us and click here to learn how.
Edited to add: if you haven't read my post below about St. Agnes House and the keynote address Heather and I will be giving there (in Lexington, KY - if you live nearby please come!) on August 10th and 11th, please do. We're asking for help with donations, however small, and help spreading the word about this worthy cause. So please take a moment to check out that post if you haven't already done so. THANK YOU).