By Rita Schunk
Immediately after getting a breast cancer diagnosis, I was famished for answers and guidance. Although the middle of nine “children”, there was no one in my life who had been through a cancer journey. I desired an experienced friend. I was aware of Gilda’s Club and knew they had a library. If I couldn’t talk to someone with experience, I’d read what they had to say.
Becoming a Gilda’s Club member was quick, easy, and free. The library was helpful, but I needed conversation. I noticed the Breast Cancer Networking Group on the Club calendar. These are my people! I joined the group. Attendance varied each month, nevertheless the facilitator helped everyone feel welcome and heard. I started out a bit shy, my participation mostly took the form of listening. In these sessions I met others newly diagnosed, some in treatment, and survivors who were settled into their new normal. Sometimes a mom or a friend would come along.
My hunger for guidance and community quickly overtook my inhibition, and I started to blurt out my many questions – some intimate. Many attendees generously offered their experiences. The breast cancer experience is unique to each person, but gathering from others helped to settle my nerves. I was not creating an entirely new path through cancer. The Breast Cancer Networking Group left me breadcrumbs to follow and pointed to paths hidden from my view.
And this group gave me a sanctioned time to knit each month. You see, knitting is meditative and calming for me. Knitting during the meetings gave my nervous energy an outlet. Creating objects gave me a sense of control and accomplishment – mindsets the cancer diagnosis had stripped away.
After active treatment was completed, I stepped carefully into a new normal. I didn’t want to erase this breast cancer experience from my mind – and permanent changes to my body wouldn’t allow that. But I didn’t want a monthly reminder. My thoughts too easily turned to recurrence. So I stopped attending the Breast Cancer Networking Group.
After finding my new normal, I started participating in the group again when I can. I was now that experienced friend that I had longed for at diagnosis. I feel an obligation to share – to use the learning from the tuition (confusion and pain) I had paid. The bonus? Some calming knitting time with my community.
Rita Schunk, Author of “Surviving the Pink Ribbon”
Rita Schunk is a Wisconsin native writing life’s real stories. She grew up the middle child of a large farm family — straddling the line between peacemaker and instigator. After an extensive career in information technology, she continues her love of learning through investigating experiences of life, discovering what can be learned from these stories, and sharing the result. Rita lives with her husband and has a married son. Her passion for discovery compels her to a variety of handcrafting hobbies. She gifts most of her knitted creations to others – often to total strangers.