Going through something tough? Feel alone? Well, you don’t have to be. In the Internet Age, if you have a computer and Internet access, you can connect with another human being twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Anytime you want, you can have access to tech-support for the soul, and chances are, there is someone going through the exact same thing you are right now. And if multiple people are going through the same thing as you, then there is a strong chance there exists a free, online support group for people trying to overcome your same set of challenges. If there’s not, then you can build one, and they will come.
But being open about your problems and personal weaknesses is much easier said than done. I didn’t even tell my own family about my cancer diagnosis until two months after my diagnosis. And I didn’t tell most of my friends about it until four months after my diagnosis. When I first found out about the cancer, I just thought I could power through it on my own. I didn’t want to tell my mom because she still had an exposed nerve about losing my dad to cancer, and I didn’t want her to have to worry about losing me the same way. And generally, I was just embarrassed about being sick and needing help.
Because of my own pride, I didn’t even join a support group until six months after my diagnosis because the ones I had found were through Facebook and I was afraid if I joined, everyone would know.
Finally, I reached my low point emotionally. The chemo was not really doing anything to shrink the cancer. I felt terrible all the time, and I needed the support of people who were going through what I was going through and who had been through what I had been through.
I was in a unique position because we were living as expats in England at the time, so I didn’t really have much of a community around me for support. I had a handful of solid friends spread across the UK, I had my amazing husband and adorable daughter, but at the time, for the most part I just felt like misery, party of one.
So I mustered my courage and joined two online support groups: Younger Breast Cancer Network and Berkshire Breast Cancer Support Group. Both of these groups were great for different reasons.
The Younger Breast Cancer Network was great because it was a large and active online community. You could post a question or comment and have twenty responses in five minutes. For the most part, everyone was very positive and encouraging, and it felt good to be part of a group of women who were so fun, young and alive, while going through the same things as me. I spent a lot of time interacting with this community while I finished my treatment.
The Berkshire Breast Cancer Support Group was smaller and less active online, but it was this group that showed me how powerful online support groups can truly be.
Because my husband and I did not have a lot of friends in our community, our daughter also did not have a lot of friends in the community. She went to a posh preschool three days a week, where she had some friends that she could play with, but we were generally snubbed by the parents there because my husband drove a white van and a falling-apart Fiat and wore dirty overalls to drop our daughter off with all the dads in suits.
Our only social interaction with the parents was at birthday parties to which her whole class was invited, and then people mainly just stuck to talking to the people they knew, and the hosts would hardly say ‘hi’ and ‘goodbye’.
The Birthday Girl
When it came time for my daughter’s birthday, I wanted to throw her a nice party because in the back of my mind I wanted to make the celebration memorable because I didn’t know how many more birthdays I’d live to see. I rented the local sports hall and one of those inflatable play structures and I let her pick the theme of “Under the Sea”.
Then I sent out invitations to her class, and immediately I got a lot of ‘no’ responses. I was gutted. One of the moms informed me another child from the class was having a party on the same day to which my daughter had not been invited. She was one of four other kids from a class of twenty-six who had not been invited to the little boy’s party. I cried a lot about it. It was one thing for adults to choose not to spend time with other adults, but to do that to children? It seemed pretty heartless. Especially when we went to another child’s birthday party, and the little boy whose party she had not been invited to was wanting to play with our daughter the whole time.
After a couple of hours of wallowing in self-pity, I decided to invite my support groups to the party. It seemed like a waste to cancel it, and it seemed like a sad reminder of how friendless we were to have a party in a big sports hall with just five children. Because the YBCN was made up of members from all over the UK, none of them actually lived close enough to attend the party. However, the Berkshire group was made up of ladies who lived locally, and they really saved the day. Especially Lucy Price and Rosalind Ansell, who brought children and other mothers to the party.
It was so touching, I cried again. I will always be grateful for that kindness.
If I hadn’t joined those groups, it would have been a lot more emotionally difficult to get through my treatment, but in the end, I left both groups. Partly because we moved back to the States and they were UK-specific groups, and partly because it was hard to continue to think about cancer when all I wanted to do was not have cancer anymore. Especially in the YBCN, around the time I finished treatment, several of the women who had been diagnosed around the same time as me died. That’s the nightmare, the one you never wake up from, and even though I wanted to stay in to be strong for people who were just starting their journey…I just couldn’t.
There are some of my fellow survivors from those sites who I stay connected with through Facebook and Twitter, and it does my heart good to see them living, really living, and moving forward from this awful disease.
And while I am no longer active in support groups, cancer remains an inexorable part of my life. Now I have Lacuna Loft as a platform through which to connect with other survivors, and I am in a better place physically and emotionally, and full of new-found wisdom like the fact you should never be afraid to share your fears or weaknesses with someone else, and you should always ask for help when you need it.
As long as you have Internet access and a computer, you never have to be alone.
You never have to be alone.
You can find Mahalia on twitter @30ishTweets