Column: Help from a club no one wants to join

I was working from home on a Thursday afternoon, the day before I went in for my first chemotherapy treatment, when she messaged me.
“Are you home? I would like to drop off a little something.”
In just a few minutes, I went out to the front stoop of my apartment building to find a teal gift bag containing a care package of the most thoughtful gifts: items that I’ll likely need during treatment over the next few months.
There were products to help manage the major chemotherapy and radiation side effects that I’d been told to prepare for: hair loss, nausea and upset stomach, dry skin. Each product had a pink sticky note attached and a hand scrawled explanation of what the particular thing was good for.
I don’t know Susan (not her real name) well. I’ve only met her once in person. But I’ll be forever grateful for her. She’s one of the women who have checked on me, answered my questions about this disease and sent me things to help since I was diagnosed back in March. These women know what it’s like to be diagnosed and go through treatment because they’ve been there before. They’re breast cancer survivors.
Another acquaintance, also a breast cancer survivor, messaged me Saturday to ask how I was doing. She asked for my address so she could drop off or mail a care package.
“I am paying forward the survivors who did likewise with me, and you can carry on with someone else down the road when you are through,” she wrote.
While many people have been kind in doing things to help take care of me over the past two months, I’m finding there’s a special bond between people who have been down this road before, those who share the experience of having had cancer. As a survivor of another type of cancer told me recently, “You’re a part of the club now.” No one would want to be a part of this club, but since we are, I’m finding that we take care of each other.
It’s been really nice having people that I can go to for answers to practical questions that I have about surgery and treatment. Does chemotherapy hurt? Will I really have menopausal symptoms during chemotherapy? How soon can I expect my hair to start falling out? Can I still run while I’m doing chemotherapy? What kind of headwrap did you use when your hair started to fall out? How do you know when it’s time to shave it off? These women have talked me through most of the aspects of breast cancer treatment that I had questions about.
These two women deserve credit for their good deeds. I won’t mention their names because sharing their personal medical history in a newspaper column would not be kind. Not everyone starts a blog and a newspaper column about their medical issues, I realize. Many people are private about these types of things. To each her own.
But if they’re reading this, I want them to know how grateful I am to them.
Besides these women, I’ve gotten cards and emails from perfect strangers who share this experience and wanted to encourage me.
I’ve also found a great virtual community for breast cancer patients online in private Facebook groups. There, women of all ages share the highs and lows of their cancer treatment journeys and everything in between.
From pictures of them at the start of chemotherapy to ringing a bell at the end of treatment. They also share the bad news about a cancer recurrence or that the disease has spread to their other organs and they don’t have much time left.
One day, when I’ve finished treatment and have gotten well, I’ll return the favor that these women have paid me. I’ll pay it forward by helping someone else who is newly diagnosed with breast cancer. And while I don’t wish this disease on anyone, I am looking forward to that day.

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