In 1993 I found myself dealing with a recurrence of the breast cancer I had originally treated in 1989. The difference this time was that it had metastasized. My only chance of survival was to have several surgeries, intensive chemotherapy, a stem cell replacement and radiation.
Even though I had practiced psychology for over 15 years, in both psychological and medical settings, I was unprepared to deal with my emotional state and certainly couldn’t touch the pain of my family and friends. To my surprise my colleagues were no better prepared.
Everyone kept telling me to be strong and I would be fine. I kept saying you don’t know that—just read the research and the statistics. There was no one I could talk with about the enormous amount of fear, pain and discomfort that accompanied me all along this journey. In looking back, I see that it was even more isolating for my children and family. Everybody tried to be stoic for each other; we all suffered silently.
One wonderful cancer survivor, who had endured a treatment more grueling than mine, became my one link to surviving, my lifeline. I would look at her and hear her telling me to just hang on. She would say, “It will be over soon and you will feel better, just look at me.” “Okay,” I would reply. Someday my body and life will return, I said to myself, and that enabled me to face another harsh, grueling day of treatments, pain and discomfort.
After my treatments, and during my recovery, I couldn’t believe that I had spent 21 consecutive days in the hospital and not one person, other than my oncologist, walked into my room and said, “Let’s talk about what you are going through. And by the way, how are your children and husband and mother doing?”
As I started discussing this with colleagues, a dear friend asked, “What do you want?” I replied, “My dream is for a house, a center where all cancer patients and their family members can get better prepared to deal with the enormous challenges of this disease.”
I don’t want anyone to have to suffer in silence.
My dream is to have a place that offers cancer patients and their family members the emotional help, education and guidance so desperately needed. Yes, there are plenty of support groups available, but not a place where it is safe for you to release your deepest, darkest thoughts and have someone like me, a trained professional who understands cancer inside and out, to help you manage them.
Imagine a place where all cancer patients, family members, partners, children, teens, friends, coworkers can learn how to express feelings and develop strong coping skills and strategies.–a safe, comfortable place where you and your family learn how to maintain a quality of life that is worthwhile, rewarding, fulfilling, successful and happy. Imagine a place where families facing death can receive special help for all family members during this difficult time. A place available to everyone who asks for our help, and cost is not an issue.
My dream now exists and is The Center for Cancer Counseling.
Dr. Frances Baumgarten