Posted by: 2in10 | 08/02/2011

support groups

Someone recently asked me when I planned to write about support groups. I hadn’t planned to, but I found myself thinking about my experience with one 17 years ago when I was recovering from treatment from ovarian cancer.

I went to The Wellness Community (now closed, and replaced by Facing Cancer Together) to see what resources there might be. Joining a support group seemed like a good idea. After an interview I was assigned to an ongoing group. As I recall, we were asked to attend at least four meetings, to give us time to process anything that came up at a meeting.

I needed a lot of support and I wasn’t sure how much heavy lifting I could do. At the first meeting a young mother of 7-year-old twins said her farewells, and I could see myself walking out the door with her.

I learned two important lessons from our oldest member, a woman in her 80s whose children had prevailed upon her to leave her home in New York City to stay with them while she had chemotherapy in Boston. First thing I learned was that she was dealing with a relapse or a 2nd cancer 12 years after her initial bout. So much for relaxing after the magical five year survival anniversary. Her experience kept me motivated to stay on a long-term path to get well and stay well. 

She also asked us if we thought it OK for her to return to the home she loved in New York. There she had friends in her building and on her floor, she could walk to familiar places to get what she needed, and her life was her life. Her children were so worried about her that she found it unsettling. She didn’t need them to lay their fear of losing her on her.  They thought she would get “better” medical care in Boston, but isn’t happiness important to healing? She wasn’t happy with her family and she longed to go home.

Go home, we told her; it isn’t wrong or mean to leave your children. They love you but you know what is best for you. That was an important lesson for me, too, to see that the family we chose can be as powerful as the one we are born to. And that we can honor what we know is right for ourselves.

Writing this now reminds me of the great healer Heidi, in Johanna Spyri’s beloved book. Heidi knew the importance of the right people and places for our healing when she brought her cousin Klara to the mountains, away from her parents and her city home.

Support groups can be good, but if yours isn’t good for you, don’t be afraid to bow out and find people who can give you what you need.

Good night!

Carolyn

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