By Rachel, Gilda’s Club Member

Rachel B

December 29, 2021 is a day forever seared in my life. The day that, at age 37, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. With no family history of breast cancer this was unexpected and a tidal wave of fear, loneliness, and uncertainty knocked me down. My story doesn’t start like many others around me; I never felt the cancerous mass growing in my breast nor any symptoms. Prior to diagnosis I was living life as a young healthy person, recently married and flying along with a rewarding career. Cancer was not in my lifeplan. But yet, it was here anyway, constructing a swath of destruction in my future.

From the beginning, experiencing breast cancer as a young adult was isolating. Rarely seeing anyone near my age at the cancer center, I started to perceive myself as an outcast. Along with all the physical messiness of cancer treatment, my mental health started to plummet. The weather was cold and I was immunocompromised from chemo. Most days were spent at home with my cats and husband. After a while the isolation became overwhelming and my therapist suggested Gilda’s Club as a possible way to meet others in a similar situation. That’s when my world truly transformed and I started to claw my way out of the mental dark hole I’d fallen into.

From the first phone call with Gilda’s Club I felt like I belonged. Understanding voices welcomed me into the space, despite the clubhouse being closed due to COVID. The first program I attended was Write to Heal on a Saturday morning. Nervously I logged into Zoom thinking I’d just sit shyly with my camera off. Instead, Jamie welcomed me into the group with her calm and soothing manner and the other group members did the same. And to my surprise, I wrote something which I read to the group. After logging off the session tears started to flow. The other group members had listened to my voice and soaked up my words. They expressed similar feelings to those I shared. And for the first time since December 29 I no longer felt alone.

Rachel next to her poem at the 2023 Gilda's Club Madison Art Show.

Writing and art has become an outlet for the intense emotions felt since diagnosis. Write to Heal and the Tough Friends Art Club have opened up experiences I never imagined. This year a canvas with one of my poems composed during a Gilda’s Club event was hung on the Clubhouse wall for the art show. Another poem was published in Wildfire magazine this summer. I doubt any of these experiences would have been possible without Gilda’s Club.

Having a cancer anniversary in the middle of the holiday season is tough mentally. In 2021 everyone around me was celebrating a new year while I lay in bed, crippled with fright and uncertain what the future held. It’s during this season that support from Gilda’s Club becomes even more important for me. Although the holidays will never feel the same, I can continue healing and processing through the outlets provided at Gilda’s Club. And I know that, no matter what the future brings, I’ll be welcome in this space.

Rachel's artwork from a Tough Friends Art Club workshop

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