A Respite from Your Fears by Mary Lou French

The following was written by Mary Lou French, a group participant at CSC-RB. Mary Lou has recently undergone treatment for ovarian cancer.

I came to the Cancer Support Community on the Redondo Pier, new to the area and knowing nobody. With no friends or family living in my new town, I was alone.

Having been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and having had surgery, I was now finishing a year of chemotherapy and facing another six months of treatments. It was time for me to reach out for emotional and psychological support.

Being weak from chemotherapy, I, nevertheless, knew that I needed gentle exercise so I started attending yoga classes at CSC. These classes were so safe an environment that I didn’t feel stressed if there was a move or position which I was unable to perform. There is only encouragement from fellow students and instructors.

After attending several of the lunch time discussions on Fridays I learned a great deal about how to eat in a healthy manner that would improve the quality of my life. I have implemented these changes into my life and am noticing a wonderful difference in how I feel.

There are so many opportunities at CSC for interacting with other cancer patients and learning from them a well as the wonderful staff.

Last, and most important to me, is the women’s support group which meets on Wednesdays. In this caring and sharing group friendships are born, burdens are shared, and tears are wiped away by women who know your pain and fear, rejoice in your good medical news, and give the emotional bracing that every cancer patient needs.

Cancer Support Community-Redondo Beach is a place you may enter with trepidation about your situation but the friendly smiles and “hellos” of the staff give respite from your fears. You are always made to feel welcome, cared for, and part of the CSC family. I am so very grateful that I found them.

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CSC-RB: A Safe Venue for Cancer Patients and their Families

The following was written by Ruth Schriebman, PsyD, MFT, a long-time group facilitator at CSC-RB.

First I must say that working at the Cancer Support Community is an honor and pleasure. I work with a group of dedicated professionals all who care about the well being of the cancer patients and their loved ones. I began my career at the CSC as an intern co-facilitating groups. Now 14 years later I have earned my doctorate in psychology. During this time I have learned so much about the group process. I have facilitated cancer patient groups as well as the family caregiver groups. Each is so different yet so similar. Whether one is the patient or caregiver, each has feelings regarding the treatment and the emotional aspects dealing with the cancer journey. The group provides a safe venue for one to express one’s self and to hear what others are going through.

The participants all agree that being in group is the one place where everyone “gets it”. “Friends and love ones are supportive, but unless you are going through the process or have been there, you don’t understand.”

For the past six months I have been the intern supervisor. We meet and discuss the individual clients the interns see privately. We offer one-on-one private counseling in addition to the two hour support groups. The interns are supervised by a licensed therapist and are given training as to how to work with clients. During intern supervision, we help each other regarding questions about the therapeutic process and how to handle situations that may arise. The focus of the individual therapy is in regards to cancer and how it is impacting one’s life.

For 26 years, we at CSC have been so blessed to have had the opportunity to facilitate groups in such a beautiful atmosphere on the Redondo Beach Pier and to meet the wonderful participants that come through our doors.

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Supporting the Support Group by Dr.Rebecca Weintraub, Ph.D

The following was written by Rebecca Weintraub, Ph.D, a 10-year breast cancer survivor, former group participant and current board member CSC-RB.

Like most people, I thought I didn’t need an outside support group. But, some studies show longer survival rates for patients who have attended formalized support groups. That was enough for me. And the Cancer Support Community-Redondo Beach Tuesday Night Early Diagnosis Breast Cancer support group was phenomenal. They were strong for me when I was feeling defeated. They were optimistic when all I could see was a black hole. They showed me how to survive diagnosis, chemo, radiation, hair loss … the works. And then, when I was strong, I got to give it all back to the next women who joined us.

So, when there was a fundraiser half-marathon to support CSC-RB a year and a half after my diagnosis, I decided it was my turn to pay it forward.

So there I was, at the last mile of the Vancouver Marathon in 2004. I had only walked the half-marathon, but for a woman who had finished her year of cancer treatment four months before, it was a hell of a milestone. I was walking with my friend and fellow survivor Rosie. There had been music all through the streets and byways of Vancouver all morning but here, at the home stretch, there were lines of people but no music. I complained to Rosie who gave me a look I had come to know … and dread. Unfettered by any self-consciousness or concerns for (and I mean concerns for) the people lining the route, she began to sing. “Bye bye, Miss American Pie. Took my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry…”

Drats. She had chosen a song that I thought I was the only person who knew all the words. Throwing caution, and anything that resembled the original tune, to the winds, I joined in. The people on the route began to clap and occasionally even joined in.

All at once, a woman was throwing her arms around us crying. It was Eurie—our marathon coach. She had been waiting for us to make sure we made it over that finish line. We cried, she cried, we hugged, and she told us to go finish our race.

Suddenly, we could see the huge timer. We were at 3:55:47. It became critically important to me that we beat four hours. So, I told Rosie to begin to run. Now, running at the end of a 13.1 mile half-marathon when you never trained for any running is incredibly foolhardy. But it didn’t matter. I needed to beat 4 hours, and Rosie was going to support me. Of course we forgot that we hadn’t begun the race at the start of the line and the sensors on our shoes would give us our real time. So although we crossed the finish line at 3:58:43 barely able to breathe, our real time was 3:50:27.

Nice, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that between us, Rosie and I had raised more than $15,000 for the Community. What mattered even more is that together with us, the rest of the Tuesday Night Early Diagnosis Support Group raised more than $22,000. Those ladies couldn’t run, or walk, a half-marathon, but they could, and did, raise money for the place that had become our home away from home. We pooled our strength, we pooled our contacts, we pooled our fundraising efforts so that our sisters—those who would need the Tuesday Night Early Diagnosis Breast Cancer Support group in the future—would have it.

It’s really pretty simple. Until there is a cure, CSC-RB must endure.

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Hair is overrated by Dr.Rebecca Weintraub, Ph.D

The following was written by Rebecca Weintraub, Ph.D, a 10-year breast cancer survivor, former group participant and current board member at CSC-RB.

Forget nausea—the side effect every woman thinks of when she finds out she’s getting chemo is hair loss. And I was no different.

I went from diagnosis to chemotherapy in three weeks. I had a six-centimeter tumor and inflammatory breast cancer. The plan was for four to six treatments. I don’t know why they say four-to-six. It’s always six. There’s a lot the docs don’t know about how each one of us will react to chemotherapy. The side-effects vary by individual.

But they have hair-loss down to a science. The pharmacologist was very specific – I’d lose my hair in two weeks.

Now like most women my hair is an indicator of what kind of day I am going to have. There are good hair days and bad hair days. Now I was facing what one video called “No Hair Days.”

Everyone has a different opinion about how to prepare for chemo-induced hair loss. I decided I would not shave my hair, but I would cut it short and so I did after my first chemo treatment. It was the hardest haircut of my life. The stylist wasn’t just cutting my hair; she was cutting off all my expectations of normalcy. It was probably the most potent symbolism for me of the changes that had hit my life. And it was the first of many, many examples of my loss of choice. I did not want that haircut. And, of course, I cried.

Within a few days I began losing hair. Everywhere I went, whether I was wearing a wig or a hat or the occasional scarf, it felt as if people were looking at me; as if they could see the baldness that was the physical manifestation of my cancer. They couldn’t see the millions of little cancer cells moving through my body trying to kill me. They couldn’t see the chemo-guns blasting them to smithereens. But, they could see the wig. I was convinced they could tell my other-ness.

I was lucky, however. Every Tuesday I would go to Cancer Support Community-Redondo Beach and my support group. Like every other woman there who was going through chemo, I walked in the room and with one flick of my wrist took off my wig. And there, I wasn’t an oddity. I was normal.

We were bald, we were in treatment, we were fighters….and we weren’t alone. We shared our stories, some funny, some sad, some maddening. We cheered when one member announced she had had her first haircut that day and we took comfort that some day we, too, would once again get our hair cut and our legs waxed and our underarms shaved.

And so it was for me. Six weeks after my sixth chemo treatment I looked in the mirror and realized I had hair. Short sticks of hair to be sure, but hair.

That day I went to campus without a wig. My husband said, “You’re going to school topless.”

“Yup,” I replied, “And so is my car.”

With that, I went outside, put the top down on the convertible and drove to USC with the wind whistling through my stubble.

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