The Kindness of Strangers

Entering the community of survivors is like being a member of a club you wish you didn’t belong to, and you are forever grateful that it exists. I’m not much of a joiner, and tend to hate groups and clubs. I much prefer to exercise alone, and have never found a book club I enjoyed.

When I was first diagnosed, I joined a few online survivor groups that scared the hell out of me, with graphic depictions of surgeries and reminders of just how bad it could get. So that wasn’t going to work for me, or at least it doesn’t yet. I still belong to those groups and they are helpful at times — like when I needed a recommendation for a comfortable post-surgery sports bra — but they are unlikely to be a major source of ongoing support.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have no personal family history of breast cancer and knew very few people who had suffered. The few I did know — my mother-in-law, my sisters-in-law, and a few friends and colleagues — rushed in and were amazing. And then friends put me in touch with friends of theirs who had been through this, and a loose community has formed. It’s been a lifeline and I haven’t even met some of these people face-to-face yet. Being able to write an email and ask someone if they had a harder time recovering from a second surgery than they did from the first, or to text someone about whether their port hurt when it was installed, or to be able to ask someone whether they wore a mask to grocery shop (or did they even leave the house?) during chemo has been a literal godsend. One amazing person periodically sends me books that helped her during treatment and it was one of those, Reading and Writing Cancer: How Words Heal by Susan Gubar, that inspired me to start this blog.

And in the “universe provides” department, I’ll share a quick story. Just after my diagnosis, as I was awaiting my first surgery, I was at the gym and talking with a woman I often saw and spoke with in the locker room. It wasn’t deep conversation, just the typical locker room talk. On this particular day, this woman (whose name I didn’t even know at the time) said “yeah, my hair texture really changed after treatment” — and the floodgates opened and I learned that she was about a year ahead of me on this path. She was so kind and generous and forthcoming, and has become an important source of support for me in this. She’s someone with whom I can talk about turbans vs. head shaving or how to negotiate visitors during chemo.

I suspect that cancer is a “pay it forward” type of disease and I only hope that I can give back even one-tenth of what these amazing women have given to me.


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