Six years ago, I went to a support group after completing my treatment for triple negative breast cancer. Through our “Circle” at Gwinnett Medical Center, I made great friendships. So much so that today, I lead the group. We have people with all types of cancer, not only breast, but colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic and lymphoma cancers. We constantly lift each other up when we have bad days and especially love to celebrate our milestones. We "Get It"!
While we have caregivers, children, doctors, friends, it is our support group that truly understands. I believe that is so very important in the healing process, especially when the "whirlwind" is over and you are standing alone, saying, "what now"? This is where another journey begins, and people in support groups understand. I also volunteer in the infusion center and it amazes me how many people come alone because they don't have a support system. I give special attention to the "newbie" who is there for his or her first chemotherapy treatment. I ask everyone if they need anything or if they just want to talk and I try and follow up with them along their journey to see how they are doing. I am lucky to have the opportunity to share what I have gained and learned from my experience.
My cancer journey began in early 2011. I had my yearly exam and mammogram, but a month later, I felt something unusual in my right breast. Because I was just checked out, I let it go a couple of months. But then, keeping in mind that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer several years earlier, I decided to get it checked out. It was nothing but a "whirlwind" from that day forward.
I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, and began treatment: a lumpectomy, 14 lymph nodes removed, 6 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments.
I worked through my treatments, which, looking back wasn’t very smart on my part. But I worked mostly with men, so I refused to show I was “weak.” I felt that they didn't want my cancer to interfere with business as usual. I was extremely lucky where support was concerned: my sister was always there when I needed a good cry; my son never missed a day taking care of me; and my husband always wanted all the information from the doctors when he was not able to be there. My Breast Cancer Navigator was an angel and I am still in touch with her, even though she has retired. Today I can say that being diagnosed has truly been a blessing, because it has driven me to be there for other survivors and help them to celebrate their life.
I now know that there are many patients who are not so lucky, which has been a motivating factor for me in my journey. My message to all those whose lives I touch is, REALLY, don't sweat the small stuff. Let friends help bring meals, pick up the kids, mow the grass, take you to appointments. That's how they can help; they feel helpless, and being able to do things for you helps them too.
As a cancer patient, YOU have more important things you should be doing, like resting, listening to your body, mentally staying positive. That is your only job: putting yourself first. Embrace your diagnosis; you can't beat something if you can't face it.
In October of 2017 I started my own non-profit called “Beyond the Ribbon, Inc.” because of the many relationships that I have formed since being diagnosed I realized that the journey is not over once you finish your treatment, it just begins. There are so many things that a survivor must deal with. The side effects from chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries can be debilitating for many, for some losing their job, partners and home. Younger patients may lose their ability to have their own biological children, yes you can adopt, but as one young survivor stated, “I will never see parts of me in my child” and Mother’s Day is just a sad reminder of that. So many people believe that you are done with treatments so your cured, can’t you move on?
I want to advocate for the survivor, it could be helping with meal, comfort pillows, financial assistance, peer to peer support, information on where to find help in the community they live in. To find ways to support this new journey they will embark on! There is so much more to the story than when you are first diagnosed and given a book to read (really) to the pat on the back when those that are “lucky” enough to finish treatment and are told “go live your life now”. To the caregiver who is at a loss and how to help their survivor, the ones that will have multiple relapses and constantly fight, the stress of follow up appointments and test and to those that lose their loved ones.
It may be a big goal, but that is my dream with my non-profit, “Beyond the Ribbon…more to the journey”.
Bobbie Menneg lives in Lawrenceville. In 2016, she was honored as Volunteer of the Year for Gwinnett County by the American Cancer Society for her role in planning the Relay for Life event, Paint Gwinnett Pink and raising funds through the Women’s Cancer Council’s Hope Fashion Show.
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