Suffering with Suffering and Accepting the Lifeline of Support

Deborah Woodbury

Thanks to guest author, Deborah Woodbury, founder of  Where We Go Now, an online community for cancer survivors, for today’s inspiring post.    

To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering ~ Friedrich Nietzsche 

During any time of suffering, we shoulder our burdens mostly alone. The deeper our sorrow, the more isolated we can become from others who can’t know what we are feeling. As we become shrouded in aloneness, it can be difficult to break out to find the support we need.

My cancer journey is neatly divided into two very distinct stages. The first six and a half months were my “unsupported stage.”  During that time, I lived in a world of doctors, diagnostic testing and relentless internet searches.  I had no support other than from family and friends, who did their best, but couldn’t possibly know what I was experiencing.

I did have lunch once with a cancer survivor during the “unsupported stage.” She had stage IV breast cancer and needed to live on debilitating drugs for the rest of her life to keep her tumors at bay.  As I had stage 0 breast cancer and would be cancer free after my surgery, I remember feeling guilty for “complaining” too much to her.

Months later, I had my mastectomy and was recovering in the hospital. The breast nurse navigator walked into my room, introduced herself and told me she was there to offer her support. I was stunned by her very presence. Before she walked in, I assumed I would be sent home to continue struggling with cancer’s effects alone. It was the closest I’ve ever come to drowning and then, out of nowhere, being thrown a lifeline.

And so began the “supported stage” of my cancer journey. I was overwhelmed by the support options at my cancer center and took advantage of most of them. The social web I’ve spun for myself on the Internet comforts and sustains me at any hour, day and night. Regardless of the source, all of the support I received and continue to receive inspires me to extend a sense of community to others living life beyond cancer.

I used to look back at my “unsupported stage” and blame the healthcare system for focusing on my illness and the surgeries, rather than on the whole person.  That is still a large part of the problem.  But, just a few days ago, two and a half years after my surgery, I had a revelation which made me realize I have to take responsibility too.

Last month, I wrote a Cancer Warriors Wednesday post about the Wellness Community, now known as the Cancer Support Community. In it I remembered my lunch and how the first cancer survivor I ever met talked about the invaluable support she got there. She gave me Wellness Community books and handouts and even told me where they were located.

OMG, someone did tell me how important support was during that time, but I let her words go in one ear and out the other!

Why did I ignore a lifeline? I think a clue lies in my guilt about “complaining.” I didn’t feel entitled to support, especially compared to her and all that she was experiencing.  It wasn’t until I had my mastectomy and was lying in a hospital bed that I finally felt I had been through enough to deserve a helping hand.

I couldn’t find meaning in my suffering until I got support. And I couldn’t get support until I felt had suffered enough. I now know that anyone facing cancer, or any other life altering struggle, is entitled to and needs all the support they can get. And, once you accept that lifeline, if you’re like me, all you want to do is pay it forward to someone else who is drowning. That is the meaning I found in my suffering and that is what makes me a survivor.

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