I never put much faith in support groups. When my father died I was totally grief-stricken. My mother was even worse off. We were both counseled by friends and family to go to a support group and be among people who are experiencing the same thing. To put it mildly, they, well, they sucked! The Widow and Widowers group my mom attended was filled with women either looking for another partner or just stuck in grief mode and with men coming for the free food and maybe another caregiver. In my mother's own words at the time she said, "I am not looking for more dirty socks and sex. I want to move on with my life." As for me, I found the meetings with the family grief group at the hospital depressing and most were there to relive the life of their dearly departed. Don't get me wrong, I was sad, depressed and wanted to keep my dad's memory alive. But this was too suffocating.
So, when I found out I carried the BRCA2 genetic mutation, I was looking for some answers to my questions in my head. But I had a bad taste for the support groups. I thought I would try the Internet in 2006 when I was debating whether or not to move from heavy surveillance to prophylactic surgeries. I was already on Tamoxifen, a drug used to help ward off the cancer cells. I found loads of sites for breast cancer but since I had not yet been diagnosed, I felt like the proverbial square peg in the round hole.
Then one day, I was quietly surfing again, and I stumbled upon FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. I was actually looking for more information on prophylactic mastectomies and this website popped up. It was on the 3rd or 4th page which I normally don't venture to. But oh, my relief when I opened the page! There were my people! They got it! They knew what I was going through! There were message boards, live chat rooms and so much information to read. And one thing I did not expect, a local support group in Philadelphia.
I was not in a rush to get involved with a face-to-face group after my experiences previously. But after making the decision to have surgery and the subsequent infections, cancer and multiple surgeries, I thought I would give it a try. There were 13 women plus the two Outreach Coordinators. This was very different. This group of women were all ages and backgrounds. Some survivors and mostly previvors. We talked, laughed, cried, talked some more. Found out the new trends, new information, news about FORCE itself. Then we had Show and Tell. We went into the kitchen and got to show our surgeries and tell about them. The rest of the group were encouraged to ask questions. Answers were given and more. Nobody felt alone anymore. We had sisters in the flesh, literally!
That was 2007. The Outreach Coordinators number 4 in our local group. At last count, there were over 200 women who receive emails and that we reach out to. The group has lists of doctors, hospitals and genetics counselors to interview and check out. We have one-on-one support before, during and after surgeries if the person wants it. There is a special part of the group that helps those younger women not ready for anything more than just close surveillance. The Outreach groups themselves have grown from 10 to over 60 and more are being developed as I write. There are even International groups now in Australia, Canada, England and New Zealand. I know that our Vice-President of Volunteers, Sandy Cohen, is trying to get more Outreach groups going all the time.
If there is not a group available near you. please got to the URL I provided at the beginning of this post and check again. If they are too far away, here is an URL to go to so you can fill out the Future Network Sign Up Form:
As always, FORCE family is here to help, support and provide love and information to get you through your journey as smoothly as possible.
Love and hugs,