In a prior entry from July 13th, I mentioned mentoring a support group for young adults with cancer. It is fast becoming a big part of my life. It's satisfying to be helping others, but I must admit, it feels a bit selfish. It has been beneficial to me, in turn. I'm surprised.
It's amazing how many feelings one suppresses as life moves on. Many we didn't know were floating just below the surface.
I had my own experiences with cancer as a young adult. I think back and don't remember how I found my way through it. I felt so weak at the time, but in retrospect I realize it was the opposite. I pushed myself so hard. I continued to work through most of my treatments, until I had to have a several week admission. I vividly remember the utter fatigue, lack of ambition, feeling alienated, grief, pain from surgery and mostly the feeling of moving through life underwater. Not to mention the hair and weight loss and the sickness from all the medication and treatments.
My family and friends tried to be supportive, but I kept them at a distance for a couple of reasons. One too personal to share. The other is difficult to explain, but I'll try...
I felt I had to put up a front of strength. My pain gave them pain and I couldn't handle seeing them distraught. I couldn't bear their looks of concern and their worry. It weighed very heavy on me. I felt if I kept myself up and moving, it would make it easier on them. As a result, I couldn't just lay down and be sick. I couldn't give in and be a "baby" and cry or be coddled or melt down or simply say "I can't do it. I carried a quiet resentment and a great deal of anxiety. In retrospect, helping me would have helped them. I realize that now.
The experience has given me excellent insight regarding what the "kids" I'm mentoring need. As simple as it sounds, they mostly just need someone who they can complain and b***h to about what they're feeling. They need to let their guard down and allow themselves moments to acknowledge their frustration, sadness and anger. Like I did, they try to put on a strong front for their loved ones, to ease their worry and concern and it takes a toll.
You really need someone to talk to who isn't too close. Someone who you can be "real" with, regarding your illness. Mind you, we have a lot of laughs and we try to have some fun, but we've had some tough discussions too.
I've been working alongside a therapist who helped me in the past. He started the program and asked me to come in to speak. The response from the group was overwhelmingly positive, so we're discussing how to make it more credible and available to a larger number of "kids'. We've held a couple of small fundraisers, so we can go on mini-trips and even had a fun run. We need more mentors and have a number of younger medical professionals joining us, so we may discuss medical issues in a more informal and relatable venue.
Some of my friends pop in periodically to join us. We try and keep it very informal and although we discuss the difficult topics, we most often just chill and let loose. I can see how much more relaxed they are now, by the increasing number of bare heads that show at each meeting. It's pretty cool and a humbling experience.
I feel a future in this. I'm not exactly sure what it will be, but I have some ideas.
One thing I have learned is, there have been occasions in my life when I've felt like a very weak person. In retrospect, I see with great clarity that those moments are actually when I've been the strongest. Life is funny.
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