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From Drifting to Found: YSC Gave Me a Community

PrintI thought it would be easy to write a blog post about what the YSC community boards have meant to me in the five years since my breast cancer diagnosis. However, I was wrong. The feelings this topic raises are very strong for me and are hard to corral into words.

Nonetheless—here goes. Five years ago last month, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. I was a freelance writer smack in the middle of many projects; and I was trying to plan a family. In addition, I was a vegetarian and a devoted yoga-doer. I’d rejected the pill for health reasons, I drank in true moderation, and I’d smoked maybe ¾ of a cigarette in my life. Didn’t that count for anything?

I found local resources—my hospital’s breast cancer support group, for example. And these resources were great, but, as is common, I found that many of my co-survivors were a good deal older than I was and at a different stage of life. They had grandkids; they collected social security. They didn’t have to worry about the income they’d lose during treatment or to have anxiety attacks about the prospect of losing health insurance. Some, even as they faced chemo and surgery and radiation as I did, flat-out told me they felt bad for me. I appreciated their concern, but this didn’t feel especially helpful.

Then, one night, I discovered YSC’s web site and its community bulletin boards. And there, finally, were photos of women who looked like me. And I could see their “stats”—where they’d started out, diagnostically, and where they were now. Did someone have my pathology? My stage of disease? How was life going for her?

I was grateful to see that people were finding humor, and lots of it, even in difficulty. There were stories of wigs gone bad, dates during chemo, clueless coworkers saying any number of annoying things. One girl, diagnosed at Stage 3, asked in her stats, “Why do I always have to ‘go big’?” It was funny. My shoulders unclenched. I would not be pitied here, and I would not be alone.

I found, through the YSC boards, a group of women who’d be starting chemo when I would—March 2008. We christened ourselves the March Moxies. I can’t overstate how much it helped me, as I headed into treatment, to know they were doing the same. Each day I’d report to them on my side effects, my hair (and then lack of), my hopes and fears, and, in fact, the clueless things my own coworkers ended up saying; and I’d eagerly read their reports of the same. I loved and needed them so much that, when my treatments continued on a bit longer than that of other Moxies, I attached myself to another cyber-group of women, the Mayflowers, who were still in treatment. What we all experienced together created a permanent bond.

Five years have felt like five minutes and also, in some ways, like a lifetime. I’ve gained  invaluable advice about treatments, options, side effects, and recovery, as well as an amazing community and very dear friends. I’ve also cried again and again over beloved YSC sisters lost far too soon. The loss doesn’t get easier. I never get used to it; nor would I want to. But I carry these friends with me always, and I’m grateful to feel them in my heart.

Knock every piece of wood, my own current health status is good, and I hope that my “stats” will give hope to others. Not all the life issues that concerned me five years ago have been resolved, but I’m here to continue to work on them, to reach for my goals, and  to experience what life brings. I’m happy to be available for newly diagnosed women, as others were there for me when I was diagnosed. I’m here to say you too can do this, and you will not be alone.

I love the newly revamped boards. They’re streamlined and easy to use, but they offer some great new features. One is the Member Map, which helps you find YSCers in your area. There’s nothing like the power of young survivors getting together, one-on-one or in groups, to comfort, laugh, cry, celebrate, or simply share a meal. I spend time with YSCers in my hometown and also, if possible, everywhere I travel. If you’re in New York City or coming here, let me know—I would absolutely love to see you.