Thursday, 30 November 2017

My Jo's Trust support group - a vital lifeline

When I received my cancer diagnosis last August, I was given a pack containing a booklet about the operation I'd need, a detailed Macmillan leaflet about cervical cancer, and a flyer advertising Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust support groups in my area.

Although I'd heavily relied on the Jo's Trust website and online forum in the weeks leading up to my diagnosis, the thoughts of joining a support group massively stressed me out. 'There's no way I'm ever going to a support group. Why would I want to sit around and talk about my diagnosis? I don't want to talk about it ever again!' Little did I know that, nine months later, that support group would be a huge source of strength for me.

I've already blogged about my downward spiral earlier this year which started around the time of my 31st birthday. When this slump set in, my husband suggested that I signed up for the Cardiff Jo's Trust support group as he knew how isolated I felt. I made some enquiries and there happened to be a meeting in a couple of days, so I reluctantly turned up for my first meeting at the end of June. I haven't missed a meeting since!

So why has this group been such a valuable support over the last few months?

1. It's shown me that I'm not alone 

For me, the most valuable thing about my support group is learning that I'm not the only one going through this ordeal. The group is living proof that several women in the Cardiff area alone have been affected by cervical cancer over the last few years. I previously felt as if I was the only woman in the world going through it, and certainly the only woman my age going through it. Then I went along to my first support group meeting and realised that I'm not alone. There are other people (many of them my age or younger) who truly understand the lifelong impact of this disease and who I can be completely honest with. I've made some good friends through this group, and many of us keep in touch between sessions which has been a huge support during my more difficult days and weeks.

2. It's shown me that everyone's battle with cancer is different 

Before going to my support group, I was very tunnel-visioned about my cancer and I honestly thought I was in a worse situation than everyone else who'd been through the same diagnosis as me. However, the group has really opened my eyes to the huge variety of circumstances people find themselves in following their diagnosis. It's also taught me that there's no such thing as a 'worse situation'. As a lady at my very first support group jokingly said, 'It's not top trumps!' Everyone's problems are the biggest problems in their world, regardless of what those problems are.

3. It's shown me that I can use my experience to help other people 

I didn't think I was anywhere near the point where I could start supporting other people on their own journey. I thought I was too wrapped up in my own issues to help someone else with theirs. However, I've learnt that I can use my experience to help other people who aren't as far along the journey as I am, or to offer a different perspective for those who are further along the journey. Even sending a quick message to a friend from the group to find out how they're getting on after a particularly bad week makes all the difference. So, much to my surprise, my support group has very much become a place where I feel I can support others as well as feeling supported myself.

4. It's shown me that support groups don't have to be all doom and gloom 

I put off attending a support group for months because I thought it would just be a load of people crying and talking about their problems. I didn't feel as if I needed the strain of listening to that on top of my own sadness. In reality, the group isn't like that at all. We all talk about our difficulties and frustrations, and sometimes there are tears, but we also make each other laugh. And, very often, we share the same difficulties and frustrations which lifts the burden somewhat. We even go for lunch after the support group has finished which is a great way to meet in a more informal setting and to get to know each other even better.

5. It's shown me that things do get better with time 

Every time I've been to a support group meeting (I've been to 4 so far), I've felt a little better. There are ladies in the group who were diagnosed three, four, or even five years ago and, although they still have their struggles every day, they do acknowledge that things get a little easier with time. It's given me hope that, although the impact of my cancer is life-changing and I'll never fully get over it, a time will come where it doesn't infiltrate my thoughts as much as it does now.

If you've been putting off going to a support group, whatever and wherever it may be, I hope this blog post has persuaded you to reconsider. Similarly, if you've never heard of support groups but would like to meet up with people in a similar situation to you, I'd advise you to carry out some research to see if there are any support groups in your area.

I promise that talking to people who are going through a similar ordeal will have a noticeable impact and will go some way towards reconciling that crushing and overwhelming feeling of isolation.

Thank you, Jo's Trust!

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