Breast Cancer Support Groups Can Offer Laughter and Humor

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • If you’ve been reading my shareposts regularly, you will have heard me speak about the group of survivors I meet with on the first Friday of every month. TGIF, we call ourselves.

    We’re mainly professional women with families, and it’s not always easy to break away at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon for some fun. Especially when you’re a mom/wife/conscientious employee, which means the balance of “taking care of everyone else” vs. “me” in your schedule is severely tipped. And you know which way. So we usually get a dozen or so participants.

    There were 10 of us around the table at Molly’s recently. Molly's is one of those dark-wood, beer-smelling places with a big central brick pizza oven, and $2 margaritas every Friday. Kathy sat across from me savoring hers: on the rocks, no salt. It wasn’t long ago that she limited herself to Diet Coke, deciding not to challenge her chemo-infused body with anything it might object to. Her hair, formerly blonde and straight, is about half an inch long, coming in light gray and curly. I complimented Deb on her new haircut, and Kathy wailed, “Ohhhh, I can’t WAIT till my hair is long enough to cut again!”

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    Susan, sitting next to me, sported a baseball cap. Her hair is just barely starting to grow back, and she’s got that “I did chemo” look: the hairline’s back, but it’s more shadow than ’do. Susan was describing her neuropathy—numb feet and hands from Taxol. She began to elaborate on her Taxol experience (NOT fun), but I grabbed her arm, put a finger to my lips and said “SSHHH… Pam’s coming. She’s just starting chemo Tuesday.” Susan crinkled her eyes in a knowing smile, and switched gears to a less threatening subject: weight gain.

    The folks at our local hospital call us “That Friday drinking group,” or “You know, that bunch at Molly’s.” And they discretely recommend us to women they know will cotton to the no-holds-barred, laugh-about-anything support we offer. Deb, one of TGIF’s long-time members, said the only time she was depressed about cancer was when she went to a hospital support group and listened to everyone’s awful experiences. Once was enough; she never went back. She found us instead.

    TGIF isn’t about holding hands and sobbing; or quietly listening while someone painfully voices their innermost fears in public. I’d describe our reaction to one another’s cancer as… wry commiseration, with a touch of gallows humor. We talk about everything from weight gain, to the disgusting fish chowder offered in the infusion suite, to the idiosyncracies of Gary, our favorite oncologist.

    We’re loud, as is every other group letting loose at a cool, dark bar on a Friday afternoon. We laugh a lot. And when someone has something bad to report, we hug. But we don’t cry. Crying is for serious support groups. We prefer to giggle.

    I’m not putting down typical support groups; they help a boatload of women with cancer. But if you’ve found they’re just not for you, shop around. Hopefully you’ll find some like-minded survivors who prefer laughter to tears… with a good margarita on the side.

Published On: August 17, 2008