Sharing Life while Facing Death

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

FEBRUARY 07, 2017

This is an introduction to a truly lovely article from STAT News re women in a support group and their long-term relationships. It describes connections identical to those I have been honored to witness over the years. Clearly support groups are not right for everyone, and they can be particularly charged when the members are really sick. It is one thing, and still sometimes scary, to participate in a group where people are being treated with early cancer and may well be "cured" , but it is another thing entirely to be part of a group where everyone is living with advanced cancer and knows that the eventual outcome with be death from the disease.

I have had a weekly group for women with Stage IV cancers for years, and that Monday morning time is always the best part of my week. We talk about the hard stuff; we cry sometimes, but we laugh a lot, too. This week, for example, one woman spoke of her current crisis of faith. To be more accurate, she described never having had much faith, but feeling the absence more now than in the past. She and her husband had an intense conversation over the weekend; when she shared this worry, he responded: "I have enough faith for both of us." Another woman this week was very upset because she had just learned that a new clinical trial drug had not worked for her, and she will be starting more traditional chemotherapy this week. Mixed in with her tears and worries was delight in a blossoming love relationship and the weekend they had just spent together.

If you are reading this and are in this situation, please consider joining us. It is a sacred and blessed space.

Young women with breast cancer learn to celebrate life — and say

AN FRANCISCO — It was a Thursday morning in mid-November, and here was Janet Sollod, diminutive and fit, rushing up a set of stairs to see her friend Alison for the first time since Alison had been admitted to the Zen Hospice house.
At the time, Alison had just taken her pain medication. She tried to lift her voice but could not.
Sollod told her to rest; she knew how hard it could be to stay awake. “I’ve felt the same way after chemo and surgeries,” she said.
In a way, her arrival at her friend’s bedside was the culmination of a process that began 10 years earlier.
That was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time, at age 32.
Shortly after starting treatment, Sollod discovered a support group for young women with breast cancer, Bay Area Young Survivors, or BAYS. She showed up at her first meeting, nervous and quiet, to find a dozen others pulled into a circle of armless chairs, cradling cups of tea and sharing stories about dating, treatment strategies, parenting with cancer.
Sollod, a pediatrician, felt herself avoiding the women whose cancers had metastasized, because she was terrified of speaking to others who, to her mind, were dying..

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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