Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 23

each of which bore a picture. We were told to
go through the deck and pick a card that represented where we were in our recovery process.
We made our selections and sat down in a
circle. One by one, each of us held up a card,
and briefly said why it spoke to us.
One after another, the women in my group
held up their cards. A rainbow. Sunlight dappling through the leaves in a forest. Peaceful
waves lapping at the shores of a beach. I heard
stories of hope, of transformation, of strength
and determination.
I held up my card. A stormy sky, angry grays
and blacks.
That was me: a tornado, a thundercloud, a
lightning strike. As I spoke, I looked around
the room, and I realized that nobody there
understood how I felt. People looked uncomfortable with my anger.
What kind of support could I possibly find
here?
I finished my eight weeks, but I never felt
comfortable in that room, nor with my fellow survivors. Not only were they in different
stages of their lives than I was, but they were
at different stages in their recovery, too. A
couple of people were years out. I had nothing
in common with them.
I tried poking my head into different online
support groups. But what I saw felt less like
support and more like a constant death knell,
with post titles like " My sister lost her battle "
or " It came back " or " Bone Mets. " What I saw
overwhelmed and terrified me. For me, newly
diagnosed and prone to anxiety at the best of
times, no support could be found there.
The best ally I found that first year - the only
ally I had for several years - was someone I ran
into on one of my favorite websites. Just days
after I got the news, I posted about my diagnosis in the comments. A beautiful stranger
responded to me that she'd survived breast
cancer in her 30s too and invited me to email
her. We eventually met in person. We text at
least every few days. Liz was my anchor and my
shoulder to cry on when it felt like nobody else
in the world knew what I was going through.
With the help of Liz and my endlessly supportive husband, I muddled through the next
few years, mostly alone. Embittered, depressed,
irritable, angry. Trying to mix the right cocktail of hormone inhibitors and SSRIs that
might help me feel a little more normal on any
given day. Weekly therapy that mostly ended in
tears and not much progress. Treading water.

Two years post-diagnosis. We moved; I
had to get a new oncologist. Then, after being
forgotten in the waiting room for my monthly
Zoladex shot one too many times, I got another
oncologist. This practice came with a social
worker who specialized in oncology patients
that I got to talk to whenever I wanted, for free.
Kerry is soothing and kind and radiates
earth-mother energy. She listened and guided
and smiled and praised and one day, she gave
me a list of organizations I had never heard of.
Organizations that dealt only with AYA cancer
survivors: Stupid Cancer, the Young Survivors
Coalition, the YA arm of Living Beyond Breast
Cancer. Before then, I didn't even know they
existed. I didn't even know AYA was a thing.
I looked them up. I joined Facebook groups.
I interacted with other young women with
breast cancer. I swapped tips about Tamoxifen,
about hot flashes, about mental health. I felt
better, more welcome, more comfortable... but
there was still the anxiety, still the isolation.
Still too many people whose cards were rainbows and puppies and unicorns. Still nobody
a thunderstorm inside, like me.
Then COVID hit. Weirdly, I think my years
of struggling post-cancer prepared me pretty well for this. Aside from a couple of good
anxiety attacks at the very beginning, I've been
handling this mostly with aplomb. Does the
isolation suck? Well, sure. But there's a twist!
An email landed in my inbox. StupidCancer
would be going digital with its annual CancerCon this year. Registration was free.
I probably wouldn't have ever gone in person. I turned 40 this year; by the range that's
generally used, I've aged out of the AYA community. I'd assume that everyone would be too
much younger than me, that we'd have nothing
in common, that it'd just be awkward for this
middle-aged lady to show up.
But digital? For free? Why not, right?
During a long weekend staycation, I poked
around in the chat rooms that stood in for the
mingling between sessions that would happen
at a real conference. I chatted in the Zoom sessions I went to on mental health and on sexual
health, in the keynote session and in the open
mic session. At one point I found myself chatting with one of the keynote speakers, Steve G
(Giallourakis) himself!
On the last night, there was a dance party.
Dozens of people in our little Brady Bunch
windows in the Zoom room, with DJ CherishTheLuv pumping out the tunes. People I'd

run into throughout the whole conference and
greeted wholeheartedly when they appeared
on my screen. In between dancing, we chatted. As the night wound down, someone said
" hey, let's start an Insta chat to stay in touch! "
Next thing I knew, I was in a group with a
dozen amazing AYA survivors and patients.
As I looked at the pictures next to the names
of my new friends, it was the inverse of what
happened when I walked into my first support
group: this time, I was the oldest person in the
room. But where FYNN had alienated me, this
felt like a warm embrace. It was like suddenly
being among people who speak your language
when you've been trying to communicate
through Google Translate for years.
We have dance parties once a month, now.
We have Netflix watch parties. We have inside
jokes and T-shirts and when two of us ran
into each other in an online research panel, I
weirded everyone else out by laughing about
us being in a cult. I have known these folks
for barely months (seriously, CancerCon was
only in June!) and it's like I've known them
for a lifetime.
They've inspired me and motivated me and
they've connected me to more AYA resources
that are exactly my speed, exactly the vibe I
was missing when I walked into FYNN all
those years ago. Because of them, I've just
been accepted to a young advocate program
with a breast cancer organization. Because of
them, I have been inspired to write this essay.
Turns out, my tribe was never just young
women with breast cancer. Before this, I had
such a narrow lens - after all, you'd expect only
the people with the same cancer to have the
same experiences, right?
I was so, so wrong. Nobody needed to have
my cancer to be on my wavelength. I can joke
one minute and get sentimental the next; I
can confess the poor state of my mental health
and then spam Golden Girls gifs. They get it.
Every one of them gets it. They've known the
whirlwind. They've faced the storm.
I'm not alone anymore. I promise, neither
are you. Open your heart and open your mind.
Your people are out there, waiting for you to
find them. l

ELEPHANTSANDTEA.COM
DECEMBER 2020

23


http://www.elephantsandtea.com

Elephants And Tea - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Elephants And Tea - December 2020

Contents
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Cover1
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Cover2
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 1
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Contents
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 3
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 4
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 5
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 6
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 7
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 8
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 9
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 10
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 11
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 12
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 13
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 14
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 15
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 16
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 17
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 18
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 19
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 20
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 21
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 22
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 23
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 24
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 25
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 26
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 27
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 28
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 29
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 30
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 31
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 32
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 33
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 34
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 35
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 36
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 37
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 38
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 39
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 40
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 41
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 42
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 43
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 44
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 45
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 46
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 47
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 48
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 49
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 50
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 51
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 52
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Cover3
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Cover4
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com