when someone in your cancer support group dies

Well, it’s hard. One of our members, A., died on February 11. The support group that I’m in meets once/week and is a “mixed” group, meaning that we have people with all different kinds of cancer in it, and people who have survived for years, those who are still in treatment, and those who are just out of treatment. A. had pancreatic cancer that had spread to her colon and then had finally spread to her stomach and beyond.

Group was last night, and while I thought we’d probably talk a lot about A., it didn’t turn out that way. We have two new members, one who joined last week and another who joined this week. When we have new members, we turn our attention to them, and this week’s new member had a lot to say. I’m not saying that begrudgingly at all. It often happens that way. I remember being a new member and being so relieved that I found a group where the people were interested and asked me a lot of questions and I had so very much to say. I felt like I was able to unload on people who really understood where I was coming from. So we turned our attention to the new members, as it should be.

Therefore, we didn’t get to talk much about A. In fact, A. seemed like an afterthought, when I really thought we might celebrate her life, talk about our feelings about her loss, and devote some time, tears, and laughter and smiles to A. Like I said, I don’t begrudge the time spent welcoming and getting to know the new members; it was just how the timing was.

We did, though, get a few carpools set up so that nobody would have to go alone to A.’s calling hours. So I’m going to go with about four women from the group tomorrow evening. They’ll pick me up around 5:45. The calling hours are from 6:00-8:00.

A.’s kind, positive presence will certainly be missed in our group.

I did get a brief chance to talk to the group leader about another side effect of losing somebody from the group, or a side effect of somebody, anybody dying from cancer, and that is being thrown back to thinking about your own mortality. She assured me that it’s normal. I told her that since A.’s death, I had gone back to some former thoughts, sometimes very logically thinking about my own memorial service, what I would like in it, etc. etc. But while I might be thinking about it logically, it’s still unnerving to me. It’s still not someplace I want to be.

The group leader, H., said that is totally normal, but to fight those thoughts and try to bring myself back to the here and now. That only God knows when we’ll be taken to heaven and until then, we need to live each day to its fullest. It could be tomorrow or it could be in twenty years; it doesn’t matter what the prognoses say. Even with A.; she outlived her prognosis by nearly four years. It may not have been long enough for those of us left behind, but from what I’ve heard, I think she was ready to go and was at peace with it.

I long for that peace, with whatever happens to me in the future. As a Christian, I think that is where I need to strive to be — at peace with whatever happens. But I have to be honest and say that I’m just not there yet.

I could learn a lot from A.

Even now.


3 Responses to when someone in your cancer support group dies

  1. It seems very challenging to be in a mixed group. My support group is just for women with mets, and there is a different support group for women who have cancer, but can expect a full recovery. The second group has women during all stages: diagnoses/treatment/recovery.

    When I was diagnosed this time around, I did not want to be in a group where my situation would scare the other women. I wanted to find a group where I could talk openly about the issues that affect me, as someone who will always have cancer (hopefully for a very long time!).

  2. sprucehillfarm says:

    I know how you are feeling. At our group there was a clergyman there to coucil us and it was very helpful. He made a lot of good points about our member’s death and how she fought (she lived with stge 4 breast cancer for 10 years!) and how she walked in the valley of the shadow of death for a long time but never set up house. She just kept going, walking slowly everyday until she could no longer walk. That she was ready and that she would want us to celebrate her life and for us to keep on walking with out her.
    It is hard and it brings up all our feelings again, about our mortality. It’s scary, but I cherish my relationships with these woman who understand all my feelings and fears. It draws us all closer together.

  3. imstell says:

    This is a great post topic. In fact, I had such a long comment written here that I cut & pasted it into my blog for a post. 😉

    Suffice it to say that I feel each of these people cross our paths for specific reasons. Their lives and deaths do not fall on deaf ears. We feel them. We absorb them. We reflect them back to the world in all our actions. What greater legacy is there?

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