Every woman has a story. It is the story who she was and what she was doing before that dreadful day. She was at her son’s soccer game. She was planning her daughter’s wedding. She had just accepted a promotion. She was celebrating her retirement. And then came the day. The day that created the line in the sand of her life. The day she heard the words: you have cancer.
Time stopped. The world swirled. The air was sucked out of the room. It was followed by months of hurry up and wait. The landmarks came and went: surgery day, first day of chemo, last day of radiation. All was choreographed; all was planned.
And the next big day arrives. The treatment is over, and the patient assumes her life will resume as it was before that dreadful day. Only it doesn’t. There are worries and pains and fears. Or maybe she must learn to live with her cancer, and all the sympathetic looks that come with that mantle.
As cancer survivors, we get all this. Nothing seems to fit and no one understands. We are not who we were before. So who are we now? What was it all for? What will fill the hole now that the diagnosis and treatment are over? What are we supposed to do?
We have been given extra time, whether it’s months or decades. And we have gained a wealth of experience. We could spend that time being angry and afraid. We could waste that wealth by trying to forget the experience. Or we could create a second act for our lives. A rebirth, using our time and experience to encourage the women who follow us on their own cancer journey, each with their own stories.
The idea that helping is healing is not a new one. Researchers have seen measurable health benefits among volunteers. One of the greatest benefits they’ve found is a drop in stress. And while a little stress keeps us on our toes, too much stress is the kind of thing that could let an opportunistic critter like cancer back in.
One more scientific tidbit. We women have a hormone called oxytocin. It’s the “feel good” hormone that gets secreted during mothering activities and sex and any time we nurture. It stands to reason if you fill your time with nurturing others, you’ll feel better and have less time to feel badly about situations in your own life.
It doesn’t have to be anything large or sweeping. It can be a bake sale, a phone call, a knowing smile directed at a frail, bald woman. It can be a listening ear or a foundation or a race team raising money. The size doesn’t matter. The doing does.
My co-founder in the Women Survivors Alliance, Karen Shayne, and I felt compelled to create this organization. We’re driven, actually, to touch as many women survivors as we humanly can. We believe if our message of sisterhood reaches just one woman a day, it’s a good day. If we help one woman a day, it’s a perfect day. It’s our second act.
What’s yours? Write about it. Send it to us. Fill the blessing of extra days you’ve been given helping another woman survivor.