The following is an interview a member of our staff conducted with participant Nancy Fritz! We’re excited to share her story and hope she inspires our readers as much as she inspires us.
How would you describe your cancer journey, your experience with cancer?
Well, cancer was pretty rampant on my mom’s side of the family: I don’t have any close living relatives on my mom’s side, and my mom died of breast cancer as did her younger sister. So, I always felt I had high chances of having the same experience with cancer that my mom’s side of the family had. I’ve been getting routine mammograms since I was 35, had precancerous polyps in my GI tract, and have had abnormal paps. And then, 11 years ago, I was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer. Luckily, it was very treatable and easily removed. So, I was in the clear, but started having annual skin scans after that, which a decade later caught malignant melanoma. Since it was caught early, it could be removed, and I was again cancer free.
And where are you now in your cancer journey?
After the melanoma was treated, I moved to having skin scans every 3 months. But recently, things have been looking clear for a while and so I’ve been upgraded to every 6 months. And it was about two years ago that I discovered Cancer Support Community. You know, it was strange, because I didn’t really know how much I needed to be here, to be a part of this community, until I was here. I thought, I currently don’t have cancer, I’m not sick. But I attended a drum circle program elsewhere when I heard that Cancer Support Community had one as well and decided to check it out. And because of the connections I made there, I’ve been attending ever since.
What is one thing you would say you’ve gained through your experience with cancer?
One thing I’ve definitely gained is a meaningful community. I’ll put it this way. I recall one drum circle session when there was a new person joining the group and the facilitator wasn’t there. I made an effort to welcome the new person, empathizing with how hard it must be to start as a new participant in a self-guided session. At that point, someone said, Nancy, you should do it! You should lead! And that meant so much because I knew these people, and they knew me, knew me well enough to know how I could benefit the group. Now that all the sessions are virtual, they tell me they miss seeing me when I’m not in the Zoom meetings: these are my friends, my new family, living together with me through the cancer that touched their lives as it did mine.
What advice would you give to families and caregivers trying to figure out how best to support a cancer patient or survivor?
For me, one of the most important things to realize is that suffering does not have to be the defining feature of one’s cancer journey; rather, it can be about connection. I know my mom understood this: she started organizing her own cancer support group on the fly, calling people who she knew also had or were in treatment for breast cancer. This was in the seventies—no cell phones, no Facebook. She only had one wired phone but brought people together. I was a senior in college when my mom died, and it was a terrible loss; the person in my life I was closest with was gone and I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.
I also lost my best friend to breast cancer around the same time as my first diagnosis. We had been each other’s caregiver, getting one another groceries and helping out wherever it was needed. Losing her was extremely hard as well, and I continued to feel like there were not many people I could talk to who had similar experiences with cancer. It’s important to have a community where you can say, this is scary, but we’re okay. A lot more people who are affected by cancer could benefit from the shared community environment you find at Cancer Support Community.
If you could provide someone advice or encouragement, what would you tell them?
I know people living with cancer, or who have loved ones with cancer or have lost loved ones to cancer, who know I am involved with Cancer Support Community but never seem inclined to join. They may believe, like I did, that these groups and services are only for old and dying people. But what I realized here, and what I would tell folks, is that when you have cancer, you’re not dead, you’re not at death’s door, you’re living. Life does not have to revolve around the disease; everyone here has real lives and is facing cancer alongside living. Community helps you live.
When you donate, you become a part of our community by sustaining this caring environment that provides hope and strength to patients and survivors, like Nancy, and their families as they live with, through, and beyond cancer.