To many people, these words sound like a death sentence. But, as the millions of people who have cancer are discovering, these words often represent the beginning of a whole new way of life.
People now more often live with cancer than die with cancer. People who have had a diagnosis of cancer embark on the journey of becoming cancer survivors. Once a diagnosis of cancer is made, the possibility of a recurrence is always present. Even years after being free of cancer, people who have had cancer live with the possibility of facing cancer again every time they experience a new pain and every time they go to a physician for a check up. Learning to live with a potentially life threatening disease is a significant physical, emotional, social and spiritual challenge.
In some very fundamental ways, everything changes after a diagnosis of cancer has been made. These changes are equally significant for the person with cancer and for his or her family. Perhaps the most significant change is that we are reminded of our mortality. We look death in the face. And, as a result, we see in a new and highly dramatic way that life is fragile, that we are mortal and that every day of life is a gift from God.
This fundamental shift in perspective brings several changes. We experience intense feelings of fear and grief. We re-examine our values and re-order our priorities. And we embark on an important spiritual journey.
The family facing cancer is challenged and traumatized physically by surgery and treatment, emotionally by fear and grief, socially by friends who withdraw, and spiritually by doubts and questions. In the midst of all this trauma family members look to each other for the understanding and support they need. But because the struggle is so intense, families often find that they cannot adequately support each other. They need some other resource to provide the support, comfort and encouragement that will help them live with the challenges that cancer brings.
The purpose of Together Living With Cancer is to provide such support to families living with cancer. TLC provides a place to talk about the many changes and challenges which cancer brings.
TLC is not a therapy group or a place to be educated by experts in the field of cancer. TLC is a support group. The premise of a support group is that people with a common struggle in life come together to talk about their needs and feelings in relation to that common struggle. In this case, the common struggle is the challenge of living with cancer. In the process of meeting together, people find that they are not alone. They discover hope. They find love. As a result, the quality of life, and perhaps even the quantity of life, is increased.
TLC is helpful to people no matter where they are on their journey with cancer. TLC can be helpful when a person is first diagnosed with cancer, is undergoing treatment, has had a recurrence, or has been free of cancer for weeks or months or years. We have had group members who have been free of cancer for more than ten years and others who have just received a diagnosis.
TLC is a place where we laugh wholeheartedly and cry freely. It is a place where there is freedom to rejoice together and to weep together. We talk about what it feels like to be getting chemotherapy and radiation treatments. We talk about our changing values and perspectives. We talk about our spiritual struggles. And we talk about the specific realities that we individually face in the coming days and weeks so that we can pray for each other.
As we talk, we realize that here are people who understand. They understand fatigue and fear of doctor appointments. They understand numb fingers and pains that cause us worry. They understand sleepless nights. They understand the emotional roller coaster of living with cancer. They understand our questions about God and our urgent need of God. And they understand how precious life has become.
We have discovered that an amazing process of caring and connecting takes place as a result of our coming together and sharing with each other. People pray for each other. People call each other during the week. Others write notes. Some develop special friendships.
Our group is a warm place. Visitors are greeted by several people. We hug each other when we come and when we go. We value and respect expressions of emotion. We are honest about our struggles with faith. We do not give advice or try to fix people. We simply offer our love and support and prayers.
May you find life with cancer to be more hopeful as you minister and are ministered to through TLC.