A Special Circle of Friends. The Sisters You Can Gain Through A Breast Cancer Journey.

Capital Area Young Survivors at a gathering for survivorship, and support of the Forgotten Fighters campaign.  A day I will never forget.

Friends.

I have been lucky enough to be blessed with some of the best friends a person could imagine for my entire lifetime. Selfless, accommodating, got your back, ride or die friends. For these friendships, I am, and will forever be grateful. I do believe they are the support system that helped me be the fighter I am.  When you have a cancer diagnosis, it impacts your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and even your local church or town.

For some friends the relationship stays the same as it ever was. Others seem to blossom into an even stronger bond than before diagnosis. And then there are those friendships that seem to fade with diagnosis. Perhaps out of fear. Not wanting to see the one they love feeling ill, looking sick, speaking about their new life with cancer, or even having cancer.   After all, it can be traumatic for everyone involved. Coming face to face with mortality can be a scary thought. Especially when it is someone you had envisioned a lifetime of chilling with tunes and watching sunsets from beaches. BAM! Life happens.

When you lose a friend from an untimely death due to cancer, it can impact you more than you realize initially. I have grieved the loss of every online friend, just the same as my warrior sisters that I have lost and had held in my arms. Just knowing of the fight they fought, the babies and family they were trying live for, the absence of them in their own children’s life now that they are gone. You start to contemplate your own reality and the what ifs. You look at your own children and think that could be them, without their mother. Without you. It can make even the most upbeat gal get down in dumps in a quick hurry.  This is why it is so important to live in the now.  Not in the past, or in the land of what ifs.  Try to not become entrapped in survivor’s guilt.  It can creep up on you quickly, and quite honestly can be very depressing. It is important to stay centered on living to the best of your ability and not on your loves lost.

It is hard to lose so many dear friends to the same disease that has ravaged your body and mind as well.  Although everyone has a different path, there is a deep respect and mutual admiration that occurs between those with this special relationship.  It is almost as if a tiny part of you goes with them on to their next journey. But I can assure you, attending Celebrations of Life on a regular basis never gets any easier. Just different.  Especially when there is such a strong bond between a survivor and her warrior sister.

It may be difficult, but when friends pass on, I think it is important to attend their service if possible.  I find it very important to let their family know what they meant to me, and others like myself.  That in their daily struggle or celebrations, you were there in support, or even just an acquaintance, cheering from afar and they made a huge impact on your life. Their legacy lives on. There is a piece in my heart that may get broken for every special friend or family member lost, but the love that heals over the wound is far more powerful. A never ending love. You begin to realize that they never really left. That you are forever affected by them. Their love and energy is all around you.

The day of my fundraiser, I was visited by two of the most amazing friends. Soon after, Ann Marie, pictured in the middle, went on to her next journey.  She touched my life in an awe inspiring way.  Her work still lives on, in her Beads Of Courage project. Always in our hearts, never to be forgotten.

Of course, you can still have the closest of relationships with long time friends and family. These bonds are irreplaceable and time spent with these friends and family members can be an important part of your healing process. Love them up. If you feel the need, remind them to take time to make time for a chat or visit whenever possible.

Just as special or even more so, are friendships found through face to face or online support groups. While never even actually meeting some of these friends in person, you can still create a bond stronger than you have with family and friends over a lifetime. Some of my online friends are my essentially my rock in handling the after effects and surviving cancer. Friends that have shared some of the darkest, scariest times, along with some of the most brilliant, special moments in my life. Friends that message you just when you need it because they feel your vibe from across the country. Yes, this is my breast cancer tribe.

I never imagined that there would be so much loving, caregiving, and essentially even hospice care involved with surviving breast cancer. It is insane at times, the amount of close friends that have passed on from my life in the four years since my diagnosis. It can be downright terrifying. Heartbreaking to see those with similar situations as you, doing everything they could to tackle this beast, and still, in the end, they may have won the battle, but lost their life.

The risk of breast cancer returning continues long after treatment ends. But we cannot dwell on this, or live by common statistics and timelines.  The friends that you share this risk with tend to get how you’re feeling, understand the new appreciation you have for everything in this life, take nothing for granted, and most often are the listening ear or the silent hug that gets you through that tough day. Many times, they know the fear we may be trying to hide on a bad day.  They know because they have felt it too.

Through my breast cancer journey, I have been blessed to participate in many breast cancer charities, events, and fundraisers. Meeting countless strong women along the way. For one, Oldham Photography are a group of local photographers that specialize in making survivors feel like the beauties we are, with complimentary photo shoots. Even if we may be going through a not so beautiful time in our lives. Donating time and their amazing talents to brighten up our day.

They were even wonderful enough to help us with a Forgotten Fighters campaign photo shoot. It’s a grassroots campaign aimed at creating breast cancer awareness among younger women, while revealing the truth behind the pink ribbon. A very worthwhile campaign. Many from our CAYS group were able to attend this event, sharing stories, hugs, and tears. New friendships were made and survivorship was abundant. It will never be forgotten and was greatly appreciated. Thank you to everyone involved.

One of my other favorite breast cancer charities, and events is called It’s a Breast Thing. They just celebrated their ten year celebration. Every year this wonderful non-profit has an amazing gala to bring together survivors, while highlighting many of them in annual calendars featuring a different survivor every month. It raises funds that are used locally for breast cancer impacted families in need. This event and others has brought me together with some of the most amazing women I have ever met. This is where my special circle of friends comes in.

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Glamming it up for a great cause with fellow survivor friends during the It’s A Breast Thing! Fundraising Event 2017.

From the friends, family, and co-workers I have shared this journey with, the medical staff, to the absolute strangers I have found friendship with along the way, we all have found comfort in one another, knowing that we are not alone. That there are others that are feeling this same emotional rollercoaster right there with you. We have trust in knowing that others on their journey feel comfortable sharing their story, problems, questions, or just venting when they need to.  We all also need to remember to respect that confidence. Every journey is different, and knowing that we can openly share our story without judgment is priceless.  They have all turned into my amazing new sisters. Sisters with a bond and strength stronger than any super hero could even imagine. Warrior sisters.  I have shared so many amazing life moments with them.

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The numbers in this photo represent the age that each one of us had our breast cancer diagnosis.  There are over 50 of us in our local Young Survivors Coalition group that were diagnosed under the age of 40.  We are part of the “Forgotten Fighters.”

 

We are also a branch of the Young Survivors Coalition. Through this group we have brought many women from all walks of life together.  For support, friendship,  survivorship, education, and advocacy.  Face to face meetings are available, as well as being active online for support and information through our FaceBook page.

Although we all took a trip that we would’ve never bought a ticket for, I can tell you that one of the brightest silver linings during my breast cancer journey has been the special circle of friends that I now have.  Where I have suffered with cancer, I have flourished with my friendships, and love.  I find comfort in offering an ear to others that are on a similar path when they may need it.  I find survivorship in others listening to me in my time of need as well.  I am so grateful for these friendships. Together, in offering support, we can accomplish so much.  Physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Even if it may take you a while to warm up to attending a support group, once you do, I bet you will be glad that you did.  Give yourself the time to be ready emotionally.  Find the right match for your location, schedule, tribe, and personal goals.  Be open to new friendships. Friends are truly a gift, and you may find friendship that lasts a lifetime.  I know I already have.

Sending love and light to all.

Happy healing.

XOXO

Dawn Ann

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