They laugh and joke with each other, talk about family, friends, work, and feelings. They impart a wisdom coming from hard-earned experience, while giving of themselves and sharing hugs or the holding of a hand.
These six women, authors of Just a Lump in the Road, share a friendship that's been forged in warmth and pain, fear and love, through moments that no one should undergo alone. Debbie, Gina, Tamara, Jackie, Cindy, and Donna are all survivors of breast cancer who helped each other as they faced the disease together. The women, all South Florida residents who were diagnosed prior to turning 45, experienced the power of mutual support. They wrote the book to make sure that other young women, whose needs often differ from older patients, could benefit from that same sort of assistance.
The women met when they joined the same support group at Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Community Hospital. Such support groups are, says Jackie, "a network for patients to discuss everything from diagnosis and treatment to emotional effects and drug effects. It empowers them by sharing information, but it's also a time to talk about your feelings."
The authors are careful to explain that they do not offer medical advice. Support networks, they say, can fill a void during extremely trying times. "When all of this stuff happens," says Donna, "you have your medical experts and surgeries to correct this and that, but support is what gets you through it."
"All of the things that we gained from the support group are the reasons we wrote the book," Debbie says. "We are lucky to be at a place that has a proactive cancer center and a specialist that leads the meetings, but a lot of women don't have this kind of opportunity."
"We approached the book chronologically," Cindy says, "discussing things such as what you do when you're diagnosed, how you plan treatment options, and once you start treatment, what are the kinds of things you could experience. We tried to describe the experience and what we wish we would've known."
"The face of breast cancer is changing because of awareness and early detection," says Debbie. As a result, she adds, "there's a better prognosis, but there wasn't a book that addressed our needs. We have kids, we have to deal with the seemingly little things such as carpool and homework."
"We have dating concerns," Cindy adds, "or we're recently married. These are all subjects we've addressed in the book."
In many ways, it wasn't an easy book to write. "When I read it today, I still cry," says Gina. All, however, agree that it was worth the effort. "It was cathartic for us to write," notes Debbie. "It helped me to reflect back on this journey and put into perspective all that we went through. It's also a happy story. It's good and inspiring, and we all said if we can just help one person, just one new patient, it would be worth it."
For more information or to purchase Just a Lump in the Road, visit www.alumpintheroad.com. There are also links to other Web sites with information on breast cancer and support networks.
A Helping Hand
As with anyone fighting a difficult disease, breast cancer patients benefit greatly from help in many forms. The authors of Just a Lump in the Road offer the following tips to help a friend or family member get through her day.
Encourage her to join a support group or help her find someone to talk to.
Do her laundry and clean her house. Don't ask because your friend will say no. Get a house key and go while she's at a treatment, which can take six hours.
Offer a few hours to help your friend organize her paperwork and bills. During the times that your friend is feeling good, you don't want her knee-deep in paperwork.
If she has children, volunteer to take them to some of their functions―Little League games, birthday parties, etc. Those places can be germ factories that women going through chemo should avoid.
Be understanding. Every woman deals with her diagnosis individually. As you read in our book, while we were all on the same journey, we often dealt with things differently.
A NOTE TO OUR READERS
"Cancer Sisters" is from the September 2008 issue of Florida Living: People & Places, a special section of Southern Living for our subscribers in Florida.