Growing a Cancer Support Community: My Journey with Cancers
POSTED BY Pink Ribbon Cooking / September 19, 2013
The cancer diagnosis came the day before Thanksgiving. I was 42 years old. I had lymphoma. I told my doctor that I had the pies in my car and I was heading to New Hampshire to be with my family. Life has a way of turning us upside down.
I was in the prime of my life, building my own business, working 80 hours a week, raising two teen age children with a husband who traveled for work. Life was grand! I went to the hospital because I had a nose bleed that wouldn’t quit. When they told me they would have to cauterize the inside of my nose I said “no thank you” and left with the promise that I would follow up with my primary care. As many of you know, that is when the ball started rolling. One doctor’s appointment lead to a billion tests and more doctor appointments.
After almost 11 months of intense chemotherapy, giving up my business, barely being a parent to my children the doctor’s proclaimed that I was NED which means No Evidence of Disease. I didn’t want to me NED! I wanted to be cured! What happened to cancer being out of my life!
After the news sunk in I started to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life?
I knew I couldn’t go back to business, I had learned that stress and cancer do not mix, or at least I thought that. And I felt that although the medical professionals were a great support, at the lowest point in my treatment, my oncologist said, “Kathleen I have never gone through what you are going through.” The good patient did not say a word, however, inside I was screaming “find me someone who has!”
I wanted to talk to someone who had gone through this dark tunnel of cancer treatment and could tell me there was light on the other side. But there was no one available to talk to me. This is where my resentment for Breast Cancer started. You see there were Walks, and Rally’s and Sisterhood! Well I didn’t have sisters with my kind of cancer and frankly the breast cancer ladies could not relate; at least that’s what I thought.
So I started to look into how I could provide support and what I could do to give back to the community that saved my life, even though my emotions were tattered.
With encouragement from my oncologist and many friends I decided to go back to school to become a psychologist with a focus on health psychology. The title of my thesis was “The Role of a Psychologist in an Oncology Field.” I was writing my job description from the day I started graduate school.
For the past six years I have been the coordinator for the Cancer Patient Support Program at the Vermont Cancer Center. This has been my dream job! I get to work with cancer patients from the day of diagnosis. The Cancer Patient Support Program is that light at the end of the tunnel for so many people. It is a true cancer support community resource.
The Cancer Patient Support Program provides psychological supports, nutritional services, and financial assistance to those touched by cancer. In my role as coordinator, I get to develop programs that patients ask for, to build supports they need. In essence the Cancer Patient Support Program is designed by cancer patients, for cancer patients.
I am so proud to be part of this wonderful organization. We have grown over 70% in the past six years. As you can imagine this program and its growth required a lot of work and, dare I say it ... stress!
Last October I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I was shocked! How could this happen ... again?
After the diagnosis sunk in I assembled a great treatment team. I had wonderful support from my work colleagues and friends. Telling my family was the hardest part. Because the cancer diagnosis is like the ripples in a pond, it affects everyone.
I had joined the Breast Cancer Sisterhood! But I still felt alone!
My breast cancer experience helped me to let go of the feeling that my lymphoma was an orphan cancer. My cancer experiences allow me to see that all cancers are equal and that a bond exists between everyone touched by cancer, any cancer. We all want to just get through this! We want to not feel alone! We want to reach another person! We are all connected.
I read once that “cancer can leave your body but it will never leave your life.” I can take comfort in that statement now.
Cancer did not defeat me. Cancer allowed me to build a cancer support community!
Clinical Coordinator and Licensed Psychologist | Cancer Patient Support Program of Vermont
Kathleen is the full time coordinator with the Cancer Patient Support Program. She is a Licensed Psychologist, with a focus on health psychology and adjustment to illness. Kathleen obtained her master’s in Clinical Psychology from St. Michael’s College in Colchester Vermont. She was an intern at the Cancer Patient Support Program and is delighted to return as the coordinator.
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