Walking into the Cancer with Compassion Support Group with my friend Sheila, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought that a room filled with people with cancer struggles, some even fighting for their lives, might be uncomfortable. That’s not what I experienced.
I experienced hope, love and a strong sense of community and support.
“This group means everything to me,” said cancer sufferer Laurel. “We laugh, we cry, we commiserate, and sometimes we see members die. But we support each other. I’ve been to other cancer support groups and found them depressing, but I look forward to this.”
Cancer with Compassion is a faith-based community outreach led by the Rev. Cathie Young, Associate Rector at St. James Anglican Church in Newport Beach.
As a cancer sufferer herself, Rev. Young has faced multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. She started the group over a year ago because support groups give strength and encouragement as well as practical information and coping skills. She is committed to reaching out to cancer sufferers with the message of God’s love, strength and comfort because she knows how important that is.
“I felt something positive for other cancer sufferers was to come out of my own cancer storm,” Rev. Young said. “I wanted to create a safe place for cancer sufferers to come and be reminded that God loves people with cancer – that’s at the heart of what I do. I remember hard, dark nights when no comfort could be found. I remember feeling alone and very frightened and feeling like I would surely die. That’s what most cancer sufferers feel at some point. Fear is reported to be the most commonly shared enemy of cancer sufferers.”
“Cancer is a unique form of suffering,” she continued. “It’s not like being injured in a car accident or developing another disease. With cancer comes not only the fear of death, but also the common experience of isolation as the result of the loss of friendships and social interaction. Often, friends and even family don’t know how to respond to the cancer sufferer and may even fear the disease and ensuing treatment, so they pull away. Support drops off in sad and surprising ways. According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, 60 percent of cancer sufferers report that 90 percent of their support is gone after three years.”
Rev. Young received training called “Our Journey of Hope” for pastors and chaplains at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Arizona.
“I wanted to come back to our church and teach our congregation how to reach out to people with cancer,” she said.
The Cancer with Compassion Support Group meets in Rev. Young’s home every other Thursday morning. I joined my friend Sheila on her second visit there. Sheila has been living with metastasized breast cancer for over two years.
“I appreciate the way Rev. Cathie invites God to bring us wisdom, comfort, understanding and love,” Sheila said.
Rev. Young led the group, sharing thoughts and experiences, asking for updates and praying for needs. She asked members to explain what the group means to them. Here are some responses:
“I’d felt isolated before, but this group gives me purpose, validation, and a sense of community- it feels like family.”
“It doesn’t matter here if I have hair or not.”
“I feel God here.”
“It’s a joyful group, even though we sometimes go through death with people. It takes the fear of death away.”
The Cancer with Compassion support group meets the first and third Thursdays, 10 – 11:30 a.m. Contact Rev. Young at [email protected] or view her blog, “Gold in the Road” at revcathie.com.
Cindy can be reached at [email protected]