“Having this place in Will County where I can talk to other women with breast cancer grounded me and gave me purpose. When I was weak and left my job, I had a place to go, it soon became my new normal and centered my week.”
My name is Coleen and I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2015. When I was newly diagnosed, I was stunned. You never think it will happen to you, or that you’ll never need a wig due to hair loss from radiation. As a result, after my diagnosis, I was simultaneously battling the physical transformations that accompany cancer, along with the psychological changes. However, from my first wig fitting, I felt like I was in the best hands at the center. During the most stressful time of my life, I felt the most supported. I finished my radiation in November of 2015 and even after I was discharged from treatment, I quickly realized that I was just beginning to uncover the emotional toll that breast cancer had on my body. As it took about 5-6 months to articulate my own feelings to people outside of my family.
Once the hospital released me, I was in an extreme state of weakness and vulnerability, and I urgently sought out a support group where I could speak to other people who had shared my experience and pain. Initially, I didn’t know what to expect and I was scared of walking into a room with a group of women grieving about getting through their last months or days. However, the experience was the exact opposite. In November, I went to a support group in Mokena and there were joyful participants, there was a lot of laughter, and it was just what I needed: to be with women who walked my walk and were joyous. Another group I attended, there was a totally different dynamic of support. These women were truly alive. They were wonderful women, in various points of their journey; one woman was a seven-year survivor. Before the group, I saw myself as a victim, but after the group, I saw myself as a survivor.
After a few months of attending support groups, I noticed my anxiety about my purpose as a cancer survivor had started to fade and was replaced with a feeling of power. My success, in part, is due to the fact that the support group is located outside of the hospital. I associate the hospital with being a patient. Whereas, I associate my support group with being a survivor. I found having a place close to home was fundamental to my shift from victim to survivor. I was treated at Northwestern, and there were people to help, when you are tired from treatment, you don’t want to go back. I am 60 years old and had 8 sessions of chemo. I am not getting on a train or a bus to get support. Everything here is so convenient. Having this place in Will County where I can talk to other women with breast cancer grounded me and gave me purpose. When I was weak and left my job, I had a place to go, it soon became my new normal and centered my week.
After going to my support group for two years and being surrounded by women who went through similar experiences, I go back now as a supporter. I am a triple negative breast cancer survivor, and now I can educate because of what I learned from my support group. Now, as I prepare to return to work, I will continue to attend support group. I don’t feel I would be where I am now, feel, look, dress, and perform the activities I do now, had I not been a part of my support group.