Editor’s note: this article is the next in a series about cancer support groups
“I have never had cancer, but I know what you are going through,” she said. “No, you don’t!” I exploded. “There is no way you can know how I feel, because even I don’t know how I feel.” I had recently received a report from my urologist that I had prostate cancer. The shock had been traumatic, and, at that moment to me, a death sentence. How could this be possible? Other people get cancer, not me. The questions were overwhelming. What type of treatment should I have? Do I have a choice of treatment? Will the doctor be up front with me? Is there something he is not telling me? Is he talking about my condition with my family and no one is letting me know how bad it is? Where do I go for answers?
My doctor recommended that I visit a certain cancer support group. I did exactly that. As a matter of fact, during the following thirteen years, I visited eight different groups and became a regular member of four groups. Based upon my experiences with these cancer support groups, I believe many cancer survivors have been helped in their search for answers. I know at least one person’s life was saved from suicide.
Some group leaders ask that members respect the privacy of others by not discussing anything said in meetings with someone not attending. Other groups are free to discuss anything learned at the meetings. In a room where they have a common enemy, cancer survivors are more free to express thoughts not readily shared under other circumstances. Among the many meetings which I have attended, a few dramatic events have taken place. I have experienced sessions where there was rejoicing over someone’s good test results, crying over bad news and profound sorrow over the loss of a fellow member.
A newly diagnosed person who visits a support group for the first time may feel apprehensive. One such visitor exclaimed, “I don’t know what I am looking for, but I’ll know when I have found it.” This statement probably sums up the way many feel during the early period after learning of their disease. During meetings with other cancer survivors, many have discovered the elusive unknown for which they were searching. They have found there is satisfaction in knowing a person need not be alone during the struggle for survival. They are fighting a common enemy called cancer and one of the best weapons in the battle is knowledge. Learning as much as possible about the disease enables an individual to be in control. Sometimes it is necessary to say, “I do not want that type of treatment,” or “Tell me more about the side effects of that therapy.” It is not wrong to make a choice for oneself.
Most groups which have been in existence for several months have a certain bonding among those who regularly attend. This special feeling has developed through the sharing of personal concerns among its members. Other long-time support groups where some members have attended for many years go beyond the usual routine of seeing each other once each month. Solid friendships have been formed with members visiting in each other’s homes or participating in other social activities, thereby furthering the purpose of supporting each other through difficult times.
Numerous cancer support groups are available to Seymour residents. Less than thirty minutes driving time will take a person to Maryville, Knoxville or Sevierville where existing groups welcome new members. The benefits of attending such meetings are many. Just being with others who share a common problem can give hope in an otherwise bleak situation. The successful treatment of cancer includes a positive outlook. The American Cancer Society has one program aptly named “I Can Cope” which should be every survivor’s motto. One person afflicted with cancer can communicate with another cancer survivor in ways no one else can. A sincere “I know how you feel” takes on an entirely different meaning when said by someone who actually does know how the other person feels.
Lynn H. Davis, a Seymour native, founded Heart of the Valley Writers Guild. As a thirteen year prostate cancer survivor, he knows first-hand the value of support groups. Currently, he is participating in activities at Blount Memorial Hospital and UT Medical Center.