We’ve all been there – wounded by the anxiety of testing, shocked by the diagnosis, disabled by the surgeries and treatments, so ridden with cancer fatigue that we barely function. We keep going with the support of others, but we have nothing to give. The best I could muster to express the undying gratitude I felt was to say “Thank you.”
Then one day I walked into a conference room at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ, to attend an American Cancer Society “Look Good … Feel Better” group program. Teaching makeup and wig techniques, the program offers cancer patients camaraderie, support and much needed self-esteem.
I sat next to a woman I had briefly met once before. She was wearing her wig, which was very stylish, but too much for her small face. The volunteer beauty professional suggested she have it cut to better suit her. The woman revealed that her hair was growing in, but still very short. We encouraged her to show us, if she was ready. She surprised herself by removing the wig – the first time she had done so in front of anyone other than her husband.
We were amazed at how chic she looked! I have short hair by choice and I told her how much I genuinely loved her hair. Because she wasn’t used to having short hair, she was floored by our reaction and, for the first time in a long time, saw herself as beautiful.
We kept talking and I encouraged her to walk out of that conference room without her wig. She was self-conscious, but ready, and I walked with her for support. We talked about oncology therapy, which she was considering, but reluctant to try. I told her how vital it was to my healing. With my support, she made an appointment that day and she never put that wig back on her head.
Supporting someone else was the beginning of the end of my cancer depression. For the first time since my cancer journey started, my experience was useful, because I pressed it into service to a fellow survivor.
I continue to reach out to help other survivors via WhereWeGoNow, a community for cancer survivors exploring the gifts and losses of life beyond cancer. It’s my way of giving back for all the support I have received.
Maya Angelou said that, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” Have you been able to liberate your soul from cancer by giving back? Has your cancer depression lifted just a little bit because you were able to reach out and help someone else?
Survival > Existence,