Talking to my friend Stacey this morning, and reflecting on the BCC (Bay Area Women’s Cancer Connections) Young Women’s Group for those in treatment and post treatment, I see a need for some form of “graduation ceremony” or “bridging ceremony” .
At the BCC Young Women’s group, what I noticed was a very large group, where many close connections had been made. But also, the group was too big for those of us who were new. It was a bit intimidating, but also in order to give each person the 10-15 minutes they needed the group ran over 2.5 hours – which if you are actively in chemo treatment, is just plain exhausting. I had to choose not to attend because I couldn’t bare the thought of being there that long right after treatment.
I struggle with the group being both “in treatment” and “post treatment” because they have another group which is a survivorship group. But what I saw was that with young women the actual post treatment is a long time. Treatment isn’t just surgery, chemo, rads .. it can involve several more surgeries and lots of follow ups. It is almost like they need three groups, one for those of us “in treatment” – cancer warriors as I like to refer to us. But I also see the need for another group to help those who have moved beyond that “in treatment” stage who are still fighting the issues of reoccurrence and addition proactive surgeries. So I see the need for the group, but also I see the need for people to make the transition to other groups, post-treatment, and survivorship, but there is no mechanism that I see to encourage that transition. Without that gentle ‘kick’ to move from one group to the next, the initial group doesn’t provide the support it needs to provide to the young women who are newly navigating the experience.
In my discussions with Stacey this morning, I heard her desire to not be seen as “cancer Stacey”, but rather some new “Stacey” who isn’t first and foremost someone surviving Cancer. Again, I see this as a huge transition. It is a graduation of sorts. Not all women make that transition at particular time, but at some point the transition usually happens. For me personally, I’m looking to the Avon Walk and next fall when I formally re-emerge in into my thesis process as that transition. In the spring, I will begin by attending academic conferences, where I’ll still clearly be Cancer-Becky – as I’ll be hairless, and I may even be presenting on topics relating to being a breast cancer blogger. But in the fall, I will be writing my dissertation, and reporting on my life before cancer. I won’t be writing as “cancer-Becky” I’ll be writing as Ed-Tech Rebecca.
Similar to working through the PhD process, it is important to celebrate the transition we make. Some of them are easily identified (e.g. passing comprehensive exams, getting your proposal accepted, the last day of chemo!). Others are more mental transitions, that take time … but when we are ready to self-identify and make those transitions, it would be so much easier if there were a more formal way to make that declaration – to celebrate the change.
So Stacey .. if you are ready to make the transition, how do you want to celebrate it?