Cancer Support Now will host its first Rio Rancho breast cancer support meeting Tuesday at Community of Joy Lutheran Church, at Northern Boulevard and Saratoga Drive.
CSN is a New Mexico nonprofit organization that offers information and support to cancer survivors and caregivers. Leaders with the 11-year-old nonprofit hopes the Rio Rancho group will make support accessible to breast cancer survivors and patients in Rio Rancho, Placitas, Bernalillo and Corrales.
The group will meet on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. The July 3 meeting runs from noon to 1:30 p.m.
Barbara Michael, one of the support group facilitators, said her group will be open to all ages. Although limited to breast cancer survivors, she said there’s room to grow.
“Maybe someday we’ll expand to caretakers, maybe not; it depends on how the group wants to focus themselves,” she said.
Diagnosed with breast cancer one year ago, Michael stressed the necessity of support groups from her own experience and that of others.
“There are a lot of people who have no one. They may have people living in the house, or they may not, but they have no one to support them — really support them,” she said. “Yes, you can go onto online support groups and, yes, I do that and it’s wonderful, but I can’t see them, I can’t feel what they’re responding to when I’m talking to them and the other way around, and I like the idea that I’m not being judged, and being able to say what you need to say and what you want to say.”
Michael said she wanted to share face-to-face support with a community.
In addition to the encouragement and training from Cancer Support Now, Michael said her idea came to fruition through the guidance of other facilitators and caregivers.
Eleanor Schick is the helpline operator at Cancer Support Now. Every day of the year, Schick said, she provides one-on-one support and resource navigation to those who call her line.
Also a breast cancer survivor, Schick said she finds rest in support groups after the physical and emotional drain she undergoes daily from being a constant listening ear.
“It’s hard to rebuild your life,” she said. “Often I use the support groups to unburden myself if I’m feeling overloaded, because we all support each other.”
Another inspiration to Michael is Gavriela de Boer, the editor of the CSN newsletter and Merkel cell carcinoma and pancreatic cancer survivor.
“The group really changed my life because it was the first time in the last seven years that I felt I had exactly the kind of support I needed,” de Boer said. “If you’ve had cancer, very often it isolates you from the general public. When you’re with other people who’ve gone through similar things, there’s so much you don’t have to explain. It’s a feeling you can only get by being in that group. I don’t know any other place to express myself and just feel free.”
All three women insisted that being “pure-led” or survivor-led and survivor-facilitated was essential to creating a judgment-free, safe zone.
“That makes all the difference,” Schick said. “Having a facilitator that has not had cancer, it’s like, there’s you people and then there’s me. It’s like there’s this wall.”
Michael, de Boer and Schick agree cancer is something one can’t go through alone, and emphasized the accessibility of these resources.
“The thing is, nobody is home free, whether you’ve had cancer or not. But, when you’ve had cancer, you’re really aware of that at all times,” de Boer said. “It might take a year, 10 or 30 years — you don’t know when the other shoe’s going to drop, but when you’re surrounded by people all in the same boat, boy, makes a huge difference.”
The women said they were passionate about serving others the way they had been served.
For more information, contact Barbara Michael at 470-0434, and call the help line at 255-0405.