March 18, 2019
Today was Lung Cancer Support Group. Once a month, anywhere between five and twenty-five people gather in a basement meeting room at our Medical Center to be reminded that we are not in this alone. We show up by ourselves or with our significant others, take off our masks and deposit them in the trash bin by the door. Once we enter into this sacred basement room, we are enveloped by Lisa and Cecilia and Doreen. These remarkable women are our Lung Cancer Support Group Care Coordinators and they have created a sanctuary where we swim in the sea of shared experiences of pain, joy, anger, love, loss, relief and grief. We squeeze together around a rectangular table and greet each other like they did on the TV sitcom Cheers. Except, instead of tipsy voices shouting: NORM!, joyful voices exclaim: ED! PATTY! ANNETTA! These three especially have shown us what tenacity, love and acceptance look like.
It took me months after I was diagnosed to show up at support group. I didn’t want to share my feelings, I didn’t want to admit that I had cancer. What I imagined was a Twilight Zone version of a cancer twelve step program: “Hello, my name is Peggy and I have cancer”. To be completely honest, I initially resisted being in a support group because I was angry and I didn’t want to be reminded of the fleeting nature of life and death. I also didn’t want to feel the pain of loss. If I hadn’t followed dear Cecilia’s encouragement, I would have missed out on this tightly knit group that expands and contracts. We welcome and release. We learn and we teach. We talk and we listen. We laugh and we cry. We offer camaraderie and we offer hope.
Over the years, we have welcomed many new faces. They arrive with that “deer in the headlights” look, the same look I had when I first walked in that door. Sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s just too much. Too much information, too much raw emotion, too much cancer. It’s a group that no one willingly wants admittance to. We find ourselves here out of necessity and yet, no one understands our new normal better than the person sitting next to us.
Having Jim at my side has been the greatest of all gifts. He joins me in being supported by this group and in turn, being supportive. Cancer after all, isn’t just about the person who has it. The commitment and love that is expressed by these incredible caregivers is so beautiful that I often find myself in tears when I hear them introduce themselves as husbands, wives, sherpa’s, cheerleaders, taxi drivers, lovers and teammates.
Some of the bravest people I have ever met sit around that table.
Yet, the last thing we think we are…is brave.