A cancer diagnosis is life changing, knocking “normal life” on its ear. So many difficult decisions loom, followed by months of treatment like chemo, radiation and surgery. The goal? Recovery.
But when treatment is finished and patients get the word that they are cancer-free, what then?
For many, this is the beginning of a whole new set of challenges, both emotional and physical. The new Women’s Support Group at Delta’s Grand Mesa Oncology Center (GMOC) offers help to patients at this vulnerable stage.
When Tonnie Bules, a patient at GMOC and facilitator of the support group, finished breast cancer treatment, she was not prepared for the state her body, mind and heart were in.
“I was diagnosed with [breast cancer] in 2009,” said Bules. “My treatment took over a year. The nurses and staff at the oncology center became like family. When it was over, I felt lost. My body was desperately broken from six surgeries, chemo and radiation.”
She was weak and had no endurance, but she had to find a new normal.
“I felt like a baby bird heading out of the nest, trying not to face plant,” Bules said.
Finding “normal” has taken her eight years. She hopes to shorten the journey for other women through the new support group.
While there are rehab options for other health issues like heart attacks, pulmonary disease and hip replacements, there are generally no such options for rebuilding health after cancer treatment, nor is there insurance coverage if such programs do exist.
Jennifer Abila had a similar experience after treatment for her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment.
“I found survivorship just as hard as treatment in some ways,” she said.
Abila also found herself wanting to connect with those who were currently in treatment.
“I wanted to give them hope that there is life after cancer; to give them a positive outlook. To show them that your hair grows back!” she said.
The adjustment period after treatment can present challenges as survivors reenter lives changed forever by their experience. Besides the shift in priorities, there are physical changes that other survivors understand and can help with.
“My eating and sleeping habits changed,” said Abila, “and my taste buds, too. I had chemo brain—thinking and memory problems. When you talk about these things in the group, there is an instant connection. It feels great when someone says, ‘I know exactly how you feel!’”
Bules wanted to create a safe place for women to share the emotional, mental and psychological impacts of cancer treatment, as well as the physical effects. Since many of these issues are specific to women, and may encompass intimate details, she feels strongly about the group remaining just for women.
With confidentiality as one of the core components of the support group, she hopes to encourage an atmosphere of trust and intimacy.
“We want to make survivorship easier to navigate with some of the unique issues for women,” she said.
The Women’s Support Group welcomes women of any age with any cancer diagnosis who are now cancer-free or are still in treatment. Attendees need not be patients of GMOC. The group meets at 11:30 a.m. on the second Tuesday of each month in the education rooms at the GMOC. For more information, call 874-6429.