My friend and my neighbor you have put far from me, and darkness is my only companion.
Ps. 88:18 Book of Common Prayer
During chemotherapy, my friends and neighbors were all around me, sometimes too much so for my introverted taste. People called and came and ferried me around; they planned outings to cheer me and made sure I had food. I loved them for it—and I wanted them to go away, to get my life back to its normal solitude and silence.
After chemo, I knew that I needed to get into counseling; fortunately, a friend recommended a woman who was herself an ovarian cancer survivor, not many months ahead of me in her own treatment. That ended, too, when I realized I was down to fruitless whining.
I thought how happy were those people not given to introspection, who could get back to life without much soul-searching! For me, having cancer and trying to figure out what it meant was similar to handing a third grader struggling with long division an advanced calculus problem. I couldn't decipher it, needed a Rosetta stone.
“I really have no idea what you went through,” a friend admitted recently. She’d visited me in the hospital, talked to my oncologist, given me a place to stay after a minor surgery when I couldn’t be left alone, and kept me in healing minestrone soup. And she was smart enough to know, from her experience as a widow, that the afflicted person often puts on her most cheery mien for others if possible, realizing that friends and family have their own grief to bear in this loss. Support groups for all manner of diseases and conditions exist for a reason.
I wasn’t going to attend a support group. I wanted to be left alone after all the attention of surgery and chemotherapy. I realized, however, that my friend and my neighbor were far from me, psychically if not physically. Despite their willingness to listen, they couldn’t comprehend what I’d been through.
Given the choice between darkness as my only companion and going to a support group, I opted for the latter. I’ve gotten better about walking into a room full of strangers, but it still felt awkward, especially at a country club, which was way out of my experience. But the women there knew, as my friends did not, about the darkness. We could joke together about our too-curly hair, about weight gain and bloating from chemo, about neuropathy and where to find comfortable shoes.
So I joined a second group, which began with an intense weekend retreat and ten no less intense weekly meetings. We could be funny or weep together, roll our eyes, talk about our fears. We were church in the best sense; the Greek word means “called-out ones,” and we had been called out of our normal lives into this new normal.
Support groups aren’t for everyone. But I’m grateful to have found women in two groups that sustain me when I feel alone in the dark.