HYANNIS – In their younger days Helen Shone and Angie Mullaney never thought they would share more than mutual friends and a casual relationship on Facebook. But pregnancy and illness has brought them closer together and created what each expects will be a life-long bond.
The women delivered their first babies in 2014, and were both diagnosed with cancer soon after.
“Helen was actually one of the people I talked to first after I was diagnosed because I knew she was going through it,” said Mullaney. “I hadn’t even told extended family yet. It was helpful having someone who understood how scary it was to get that first phone call letting you know you have cancer.”
“Only people who have had that phone call can truly understand what it is like,” she said. “It’s a lifelong thing. You never really forget about it.”
Now the two women want to offer support to other young women with cancer. They have formed a new support group called Cape Cancer Fighters. It meets at 6 p.m. on the second Monday every month at the Dennis Memorial Library.
They hope to share resources like childcare and transportation, as well as information, support and comfort. Both women said they were very fortunate to have helpful and supportive family members and friends because cancer treatment can be a long process.
Shone was treated with the ACT chemotherapy cocktail for six months and still has one more treatment of Herceptin still to do. She also takes the oral chemo drug Xeloda five times a day. She had a double mastectomy in June of 2016 and is in the process of breast reconstruction. Her next surgery is in April. Her husband, was with her through all her treatments.
“Cancer is a like a full time job,” she said. “It really is.”
Finding Others to Share
While she was going through treatment, Mullaney wanted to find a cancer support group for people her age, but was unable to find one locally.
“It was hard for me to find people close to home, too,” said Shone. “So we just thought that since there was a need for both of us, there was probably a need for other people because more people are diagnosed all the time.”
The difficulty is finding those people. The HIPAA Privacy Rule means that medical personnel can’t share the names of people who might benefit from the support group. Shone and Mullaney are hoping that word of mouth will help them get the word out.
They decided to keep the group just women for now because they said there are a lot of gender-specific issues with cancer. Some of the topics they hope to discuss at future support group meetings include:
- Body image
- The changes caused by the anxiety of cancer
- Foods to fight cancer
- Motherhood and cancer
- Dealing with the fear and reactions from family members
- How to maintain a social life with cancer
- Chemotherapy side effects
- Resources like grants that can help financially
- Fear of cancer returning
- Fear of future health problems caused by treatment
The topics will be a jumping off point for conversation, but there will also be time for people to share their own stories, fears and questions.
“There’s a lot of PTSD involved with going through it so it’s nice to have someone to talk to who is on the other side,” Mullaney said. “It’s helpful, for sure.”
Hearing other survivor’s stories is a wonderful way of learning what to anticipate and can also be reassuring because you don’t feel so alone. When Mullaney was first diagnosed, she went to YouTube and watched videos of other people’s experiences with Hodgkin lymphoma. They inspired her to start her own personal blog with videos on the CaringBridge website.
CaringBridge is a non-profit company that allows people to create a free website to chronicle their health journey. It helps cut down on endless phone calls and updates because friends and family can check in and offer support through the website.
A man from New York State with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma saw her videos and contacted her.
“He just poured his heart out and told me how much the videos helped him,” she said. “It was really heartwarming to know that I made a difference, at least in his life, by sharing. So we hope to do that for other people.”