I was a facilitator of Cancer Council ACT Support Groups from 2003 until 2011. These groups included the regular Thursday Lunch-Time meetings, Pink Links Breast Cancer support and ‘Living With Cancer’ courses.
Looking back over these years I am filled with such appreciation for this work. I have personally received far more than I ever gave. Meeting fortnight after fortnight with such top quality people (people with cancer and their supporters), as they shared their stories of living with cancer, has been profound, adding much richness to my life. We would alternate with a guest speaker one session and group support the next. Some people would attend just the sessions they were interested in and others would come regularly. Close friendships and trust developed between many members, particularly as the cancer for some, advanced to the terminal stage.
We had the last group meeting in December 2011 finishing with a Christmas lunch.
An unexpected turn in my life followed which enabled me to put into practice all I had learnt from the Support Groups.
The very next morning after the Christmas lunch, I woke with abdominal pain and felt quite unwell. I discovered a lump above my umbilicus. Urgent tests were ordered, and widespread malignant tumors and nodules were discovered throughout my abdominal cavity. I was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer grade 3c.
I will be forever grateful for the fast and efficient treatment that quickly followed.
The Support Groups had been a place to explore the shock, fear, vulnerability, anger, sadness, grief and confusion for members, following a diagnosis and then with the information from guest speakers, learning to live with and manage the treatment. I experienced all the above emotions and more. A cancer diagnosis is such a confronting experience - suddenly life becomes finite, an end is in sight.
In addition, I heard inspiring and encouraging stories of support, courage, strength, acceptance, personal growth and increase of quality of life.
It feels very different being the patient. I have had to learn how to let my dear family and friends look after me. It has been both a constant lesson in letting go of control and an extraordinary experience of accepting love.
I finished my treatment in June 2012 and since then have been slowly recovering.
Now four years later, I am in remission and getting on with my life – valuing it more than ever.