Archive by Author | Florence Strang

Dana’s Gift: A Tribute


“What room is Dana in?”  was the question on nearly every woman’s lips at our annual breast cancer retreat.  We all knew that where there was Dana, there was fun, laughter and music.  With more than 200 women attending the retreat each year, it is impossible to get to know everyone.  Over the years, we have formed our own little groups, or cliques you could say.  But everyone seemed to know Dana and she was considered a part of every group.  She “belonged” to all of us.  She was our Rock Star!


“Believe” was Dana’s motto.

Dana was the first of my survivor sisters to reach out to me after I was diagnosed.  Soon after discovering my blog, she messaged me on Facebook to assure me that everything would be ok.  She had battled and beaten stage 2 breast cancer just one year prior to my diagnosis.  I cannot tell you what a relief it was to read the words of encouragement from her.  At 44 years old, my experience of breast cancer was, for the most part, hearing about little old ladies, who eventually succumbed to the disease.  But there was Dana, a survivor at just 32 years old.  “Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that you have to die, Flo,” she encouraged me.  “We have lots of years left to live!”


Dana and I at our annual breast cancer retreat.

Over the following months, as I underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatments and a mastectomy, Dana was always there, cheering me on.   Although we had not met in person at that time, she became my mentor.  I opened her emails and Facebook messages as if they were a gift: The gift of hope.

Then, just three months after she first contacted me, she sent me a message that turned my world upside down.  Her cancer had come back and this time it was stage 4.   I was devastated!  At that point, I was still going through my treatments and I didn’t know what the outcome would be for me.  Dana was my hope and my inspiration.  Because she had beaten cancer, I believed that I too could beat it.  But with her stage 4 diagnosis, I lost faith in my own ability to survive.  However Dana remained positive even in the face of this terminal diagnosis.  She never lost hope, and she never, ever lost her faith and will to live.  Seeing her strength and her will to survive gave me back mine.

Dana was a friend to all, and a better friend you could never ask for. I was privileged  to meet some of her family and through them, I learned how Dana excelled, not just at being a friend, but also at being a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister.   Sometimes when I was worried about Dana, I would creep her Facebook page to see what she was posting. Like me, she was very open about her disease and would sometimes post about her health status.    One night, just about a week before she died, I could not get her off my mind.  I checked her Facebook page and there was a post, “Dollhouse for sale.”  I smiled believing that death could not be close if she was still dealing with mundane, day to day things like de-cluttering her home.  But that was Dana; being a good mom right to the end.  Her husband, Todd, told me that after she passed, he was becoming frustrated with some paper work that he had to do.  Then he discovered that she had filled out these papers before she died, to save him the frustration.   Even in the face of death, Dana continued to take care of her children and her beloved husband.


Dana and her beautiful family.

Although I could see Dana getting sicker and weaker over the past several months, she continued to live every moment to the fullest and spread love and joy everywhere she went.  What continues to inspire me most about Dana however, is not how she lived her life, but how she faced her death.   I recently read this passage, written by Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl:

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he picks up his cross, gives him ample opportunity-even under the most difficult circumstances-to add deeper meaning to his life.  He may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal…….It is true that only a few are capable of reaching such high moral standards. 

Dana is one of the few who was truly capable of reaching these high moral standards.  I can only imagine the anguish that I would suffer at the thought of leaving three children and a loving husband.  But just weeks before her passing, Dana said that she was not afraid, nor was she bitter or resentful.  She told her friends that she experienced a peace that was beyond understanding.   She remained brave, dignified and unselfish to the very end.  Dana died just as she lived her life: with grace.

There is an old expression, “Only the good die young.”  I believe that there is some truth to that.  I believe that our souls come to this earthly plane to achieve greater levels of goodness (or Godliness), and to help other souls to grow and to evolve.  There is a key truth that our souls must learn, but not only learn, we also must live this truth before we are ready to leave this world.  Some learn to live that simple truth in a short life span, while others die after living a long life without ever having discovered it.  The truth is this:  Love is all that matters.  Dana lived that truth every day.  The love that she showed to her friends, her family, Johnny Reid, (who was as much a fan of hers as she was to him), and all who she met, was so pure and genuine.  Dana just had that way of spreading love and joy everywhere she went.  And that is why we, her survivor sisters, swarmed to her like bees to honey.  Just to be in her presence was a gift.


Dana was a great fan of Johnny Reid, and he was a fan of hers.

The last words I spoke to Dana were through the same medium as the first words we spoke, a Facebook message.

-“Sending you lots of love, Dana.”

-“I love you too, Florence.  Xoxo”

Thank you for the gift of your friendship and for the gift of your love, my friend.  Rest in peace.

Dana singing her song at the launch of “100 Perks of Having Cancer”

I Won’t Let Them Get To Me!


It took me two days to mentally prepare to take Ben for a haircut.  There have been a lot of changes for him lately with moving from a small town to the city.   New house.  New school.   New bus.  New routines.   Change is not easy for anyone, but for a kid with Autism, it can cause extreme anxiety.  I am happy to say that for the most part, Ben has been adjusting very well.  However I was worried about his first hair cut in the city.   Miss Goldie gave him his very first hair cut as a baby, and pretty much every one he has had since then.  He doesn’t like to get his hair cut and will sometimes get upset and resist.   Miss Goldie knows how to get the job done,  but I wasn’t so sure about a city slicker hair stylist!   Surprisingly, Ben was very cooperative, which I can only attribute to the fact that I bribed him: “First hair cut, then a new DVD at Walmart.”

Although the hair cut went well, my palms were sweating as we headed towards the DVD display.  I know Ben’s pattern very well.  He will have his heart set on a particular DVD and if it is not there, watch out!   As feared, Ben took a quick look at the DVD display and let out a blood curdling scream, “THOMAS DVD! THOMAS DVD!”  There were no Thomas DVD’s.  An unexpected change.  Panic for Ben!  I noticed people moving away from us, even the sales associates seemed to suddenly disappear. In his state of heightened anxiety, Ben started to cry while flapping his hands and jumping around.  Knowing what a commotion Ben’s meltdowns can cause,  I just wanted to get him out the store as quickly as possible. 

As I dragged him through the main aisle of Walmart, people darted out of our way, giving me that “bad mommy” look; some of them blatantly staring and pointing.   They seemed to look at Ben as if he was a dangerous lunatic wielding a weapon, as opposed to an 11 year old boy brandishing the lollipop that he had just earned for being well behaved at the hair dresser’s.  I held my head high.  I was used to the judgemental stares and dirty looks.  I had grown a thick skin over the years.  They weren’t going to get to me!

As we neared the exit, Ben decided that he deserved another treat, a pack of hubba bubba bubble gum.  With bated breath, I took him to the gum display, terrified that his preferred flavor was not there, which would certainly result in another melt down.  People waiting in the line behind us impatiently tapped their debit cards, as Ben took his time to browse the display. 

“Hurry up, Ben.  There are people waiting”, I said, feeling more and more anxious with each passing second. 

 The elderly lady working the cash smiled at me and said, “That’s fine.  Let him take his time and choose his treat.”  

When he finally picked his gum, she spoke to Ben very kindly, “Would you like me to put this in a bag for you?  My grandson has autism too.  He likes to have his things put in a bag that he can carry himself.”

I paid the cashier, but with the big lump in my throat, I was barely able to speak to her.

As I walked to the car, I could no longer hold back my tears.   I cried.  Not because of the rude way that Ben was treated by the strangers that we encountered on our outing.  I was used to that.  I experience it nearly every time I take Ben out in public.  I don’t let them get to me.  What moved me to tears was the kindness of this lady who, despite Ben’s unusual behaviors, treated him with the dignity and respect that he deserves.  That is what finally got to me. 

The Heart of the Home

I am now the proud owner of an antique Enterprise stove (thanks Sherry and Bob)!  For those of you reading this who are not from Newfoundland, you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal about an Enterprise stove?”  However, those of you who grew up in Newfoundland (before the 1980’s when things went modern) are probably thinking, “Ya lucky bastard!  How did you get your hands on that?”

stove 1

Growing up in outport Newfoundland, wood and oil stoves such as these were the very heart of the home.  One of my earliest memories is of waking on cold winter mornings, with at least 2 of my sisters in the bed with me, to the sound of Dad starting the stove to heat the house before we got up.  Soon we would hear the crackling of burning wood and the heat would fill the house, slowly erasing the magical patterns that Jack Frost had painted on our windows overnight.   My sisters and I would make our way to the kitchen where mom would be making home-made bread toast, using a grill placed directly on top of the stove.  Stacks of this delicious toast, saturated with Eversweet margarine, would be placed at the back of the stove to keep warm, along with a pot of hot, sweet, Tetley Tea.  Toast and tea was the traditional breakfast of outport Newfoundland, sometimes with a bit of molasses or blueberry jam to sweeten the toast. 

Although the stove was run by both oil and wood, oil was considered “dear” (meaning expensive), while wood was practically free.  On crisp, white winter mornings, the ringing of the horse’s bells would break the silence of the harbour, as they headed out, sleigh in tow, for a load of wood to fuel the stove. 

Since the stove was used to both heat the house and cook the food, the temperature in the house was often determined by what was being cooked.  On bread baking days, the house was at its warmest.  There is nothing that can compare to the comforting smell of mom’s freshly baked bread taken from the oven of the old wood stove.  My favorite part of the bread was the “heel” or end piece.  My mom complained that taking the heel when the bread was still hot would dry it out.  But I simply could not resist this crunchy treat with melted butter and molasses……and of course a cup of tea.

stove 5

This stove, belonging to Mrs. Sarah Edwards of my hometown, Lawn, Newfoundland, is no longer in use, but still holds a special place in the home.

The stove is where we gathered on long winter evenings to listen to stories of ghosts and fairies from our parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  My Grandmother Kearney, who is still “smart as a top” at 93 years old, is a skilled story teller.  Although I lived right next door, that run to my house at night seemed a long and scary one after listening to Nan tell stories of children who were taken by the fairies, never to be seen again. 

stove 6This stove is in the home of the late Steve and Mary Edwards of Lawn.

 My favorite memory of the old stove, is coming home, feet frozen after an evening of sledding down the hill by my house with my sisters and cousins.  My woolen mittens, knit by my Nan with “real wool”, would be knobby with little snowballs.  It was a pleasure to beat them out on top of the stove to dry them, and watch the water droplets dance across the top of the hot stove.  Best of all, was opening the oven door to stick my cold feet inside and warm up, while having a “mug up”.   Mug up is the Newfoundland word for snack, and the traditional mug up before bed was…… guessed it….toast and tea. 


stove4Stephanie Jarvis warming her feet  by the wood stove, in Lawn, NL

This stove is my retirement gift to me.  In five years, God willing, I will retire from my work as an Educational Psychologist.  A dream that I share with my partner, Steve, is to have a cottage on the water where we will indulge in our passion for writing.  We are not sure where this cottage will be located… may be in Lewin’s Cove, Newfoundland, or at the other end of the country, on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.  Where ever it is located, you can be sure that my old stove will be the heart of this home.   It is here that I will sit with my feet in the oven, while my rose tea pot simmers on the back of the stove, and I will write my stories.   When I am blessed with grandchildren of my own, I will scare them with stories of ghosts and fairies, while gathered around my old wood stove, eating toast and drinking tea. 


This stove still stands at the family home of the late Adolf and Evelyn Jarvis, of  Lawn.


The Next Chapter…..

I thought it would be harder to leave my garden.   This is my third move since my divorce in 2001, and each time, I bring pieces of my garden with me to my new home.  The house that I am leaving in Lewin’s Cove, has the most extensive gardens that I have ever created.  I lived there with my three children for nearly 13 years.  I put my heart and soul in to those gardens.   Gardening was the therapy that got me through Ben’s diagnosis of autism and my own diagnosis of cancer.  It healed me on many levels.  I remember, for example, setting tulip bulbs in the fall of 2011, with the hopes that I would be alive in the spring to see them bloom.  Those bulbs continue to reward me with their vibrant colors every spring and remind me of the power of hope! 

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With over 100 varieties of perennials, it is difficult to remember where I got all of my plants.  Many of them came from my mother’s garden.  Then there is the baby’s breath from Jennifer; the red astilbe from Mrs. Jarvis, and the black eyed Suzies from my Aunt Mag.  Each of these women have passed on, but a piece of them lives on in my garden, and will travel with me to my new garden. 

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Driving to St. John’s yesterday, with Steve’s truck loaded down with as many plants as I could fit in there, I felt happy.   I expected to feel sad, leaving the home where I raised my children, and the garden that is so dear to me.  But I am so ready to begin this new chapter of my life!   The U-2 song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, was playing on the radio.  And it occurred to me:  I HAVE found what I have been looking for!   It took me nearly 50 years, but I feel that my life now is just the way I want it.  I have found a wonderful partner, and for the first time since my divorce, I will actually share my home with a man!  

Steve excels in the three “A’s”, as I call them.  He is ATTENTIVE.   I know as soon as his helicopter lands (he is a pilot) because the first thing he does is text me.  When we are apart, he will text me as soon as his eyes open in the morning,  and last thing before falling asleep, so that even when we are not together, we are connected.  He is AFFECTIONATE.  He likes to hold my hand, cuddle and rub my feet.  (I would keep him around for the foot rubs alone!)   He is APPRECIATIVE.   He takes nothing for granted and appreciates everything that I do for him.  Most important though, is how gentle and caring he is with Ben. Having a son of his own who has autism, gives him so much understanding of Ben’s needs.   I am excited that this move allows me to share my life more fully with this wonderful man!

Then there are my children.  Kaitlyn and Donovan, I am very proud to say, are both attending University in St. John’s, so my move brings me closer to them.  They have their own apartments, but live close by.  In fact Kailtyn lives on the same street as me!   I love to call her up in the morning and say, “ Pop by before school so that we can have breakfast together.”   For Ben, there are so many more opportunities for him in the city.  He loves being part of the Rainbow Riders Therapeutic Horse Riding program, for example.  He is also closer to his favorite store, the Value Village, where he can buy his beloved DVDs at a discount.

I wondered, with Ben’s limited language skills, if he really understood the permanency of the move.  He loves weekends in St. John’s, but also loves going home to Lewin’s Cove.  Yesterday as the moving truck was being packed, he walked through the house saying, “Bye house.  No more house.  House is closed.  Going to Ben’s and Mommy’s new house for 100 sleeps.”   (For Ben, that means a very long time!)   He was happy and very excited to hit the road and when we arrived at our new home, I knew that he felt AT HOME.  

I am very happy to be starting this new chapter, and as I gaze out into the mess that is my back yard, I visualize it as a blank canvas ready to be painted into a thing of beauty; a tiny, peaceful oasis for me and my family. 



Follow The Rainbow

Hey, it has been a while since I have posted about cancer prevention and healthy living, so here goes…….

When eating for disease prevention, the best health tip that you can follow is to “follow the rainbow”, meaning that you should include as many colorful foods in your diet as possible.  No, I am not telling you to eat bag of Skittles a day, I am referring to nature’s treats, fruits and vegetables!

Nothing looks more appealing than a plateful of richly colored food.  The beautiful colors found in fruits and vegetables are the result of chemicals called anti-oxidants.  While there are tiny amounts of anti-oxidants found in meats and dairy (due to the fact that animals eat plants), by far the vast majority of anti-oxidants are found in plant based foods.  There are many classes of anti-oxidants, such as beta-carotene, which gives squash its yellow color; lypocene, which gives tomatoes their red color; and crytoxanthins, which lend oranges their orange color.  It is not important that you know all these fancy words, but it is important for you to know that you need to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in order to get the health benefits from an array of anti-oxidants.

So why are anti-oxidants important to good health?  Good question!  Throughout our lifetime, our bodies produce a nasty substance called free radicals.  Free radicals are the result of normal metabolism and energy production in the body, and are formed when we exercise.  They are also produced by exposure to the sun’s rays, pollution from the environment, and poor diet, among other things.  These free radicals wreak havoc on the body, causing our tissues to become stiff and rigid.  Eventually, these free radicals will lead to degenerative diseases in the body, such as arthritis, heart disease and cancer.   The good news is, we can help to protect our bodies from the damage of free radicals by building a shield around them so that they are unable to damage the cells in our body.  This protective shield is formed by anti-oxidants.

Our bodies can manufacture some types of antioxidants, but not others, and our natural antioxidant production tends to decline with age.  Fortunately for us, plants are able to produce these anti-oxidant shields which protect their cells from the harmful effects of free radicals, and by eating plants, we get the same protection.  It is impossible to stop our bodies from accumulating free radicals, after all, they are a bi-product of living and breathing.  In addition, pollutants and carcinogens are all around us: in our air, food, water and sunlight. However, we don’t have to do it alone.  By eating more fruits and vegetables we are able to borrow their anti-oxidant super powers, and thereby reduce the aging and disease effects that free radicals cause in our bodies.

So, some of you are thinking, “I am not a big fan of fruits and veggies, so I will just take an anti-oxidant supplement instead.”  Sorry, think again.  When you eat whole foods, you get more than the anti-oxidents. You also get essential vitamins, minerals, and energy in the form of protein, fat and carbohydrates.   Although you can get some types of nutrients through supplements, it is better to get them through food. The nutrients and other components in whole foods are more balanced, more biologically active, and are usually better absorbed by the body, according to a 2009 article by David R. Jacobs, Jr. published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.”  While taking a supplement can do no harm, it is wise not to depend on them as your main source of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.  See how many colors you can incorporate into your meals today!

Is Your Life Crappy, Or Happy?

The Crappy

 When you think about it, my life has been pretty crappy!  To begin with, I suffered through my childhood with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.  I don’t remember when I had my first panic attack, but by the time I started school, they were a regular occurrence, making my school years a living nightmare.  My teen and early adult years were not so bad. I got the anxiety under control and I met and married my high school sweetheart.  However that ended in a painful divorce.  It took me years to recover from that.   During the latter part of my marriage, the anxiety returned and I suffered a full blown nervous breakdown.  My anxiety and panic attacks were so intense that I could not go to work; I could not do simple chores, like banking or even get my hair styled.  I couldn’t even take care of my own kids.  What kind of a Psychologist has a nervous breakdown, anyway?   That doesn’t say much for my skills as a counsellor, don’t you agree? 

Following my divorce, I had not one, not two, but three….count them, THREE failed relationships, each one lasting four years.  I must be a sucker for punishment!   Can you just imagine how much heartache and suffering I have endured, just from breakups alone?  Jeeze, I must have endured 10 break ups and make ups in just one of those relationships.  Do you have any idea how many tears I have cried over men?  Sure, I am now in a relationship with a wonderful guy, but knowing my luck, that will probably end in disaster as well. 

Then, when I was 41, I got dealt one of the hardest blows of my life.  My youngest son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism.  It is not easy being a single parent to a child with autism.  Every day, there are challenges.  Just a few days ago, for example, we went to a store for him to buy a DVD.   The one he wanted was not there, which resulted in a complete meltdown.  For what felt like an hour, he screamed cried, jumped up and down and was completely inconsolable.  I felt so embarrassed as everyone in the store pointed and stared at us.  By the time I dragged him to the car, I was in tears myself.  That is just one of the challenges.  Trust me, there are plenty more. 

Life certainly didn’t improve during my forties…….a single mom of three kids, the youngest with autism, with a string of failed relationships.  Just when I was at the point of thinking “What else could possibly go wrong with my life?”  BAM….I get diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 44.  It has been five years of suffering; surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and constant fear of it coming back.  Cancer has scarred my body and it has scarred my soul.  I will never again be the person I was before my diagnosis.  Yes, folks, life has been crappy for me, that is for sure.

The Happy

When you think about it, my life has been pretty happy!  Sure, I had a rough start in life, with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.  However, I give credit to that experience for my decision to become a Psychologist.  I am now 26 years into my career and I can honestly say I have not had a single regret about my career choice.  Not many people can say that! I can thank my childhood anxiety disorder for helping to make me the woman I am today.  By the time I was a teen, the anxiety seemed to be under control and I really rocked the 80’s.  I had great friends and a wonderful boyfriend who later became my husband.  Sadly, that ended in divorce, but from it, I got two wonderful children, Kailtyn and Donovan.  While divorce is painful, I learned a lot about myself from that experience.

My anxiety returned when I was in my thirties, and eventually resulted in a nervous breakdown.  It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, but I can honestly say, it has made me a better Psychologist.  When I am counseling clients with anxiety, I am not just talking the talk.  I have walked the walk. I know what a panic attack feels like, and what it is to battle an anxiety disorder. I also know that the techniques that I teach my clients really work.   After being nearly 10 years panic attack free, without medication, I am living proof of the success of these techniques.  I have had great success with treating anxiety, and as I write this, my services are in such high demand that I have a wait list of clients. 

When I look back over my love life, no doubt about it, it was a rocky road.  But I can honestly say that something good came from each of my failed relationships.  I hold no grudges and I have no regrets.   As the old saying goes, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  Each of these relationships taught me something about myself and what I am truly deserving of in a relationship.  And now, I have hit the jackpot!   Steve Robertson is the most kind, caring, loving, affectionate and attentive man that I have ever met.  (And I am NEVER letting him get away!)

I won’t lie to you, it is not easy raising a child with autism.  There are so many challenges.  For example, I am always on alert for him to have a meltdown in a public place, like he recently did when he could not find the DVD he wanted.  However, because of that incident, I came up with a genius way to prevent further mishaps like that.  When we left the store that day, Ben could not be consoled.  He wanted to go to another store to look for the DVD.  I didn’t know what to do.  If the DVD was there, it would be the end of the upset.  But if it wasn’t, it would probably result in an even more severe meltdown.  That’s when I got my idea.  I sent my daughter, Kailtyn in to the store to take pictures of the DVD displays, while we waited in the car.  Sure, Ben got upset when he looked at the pictures and realized the one he wanted was not there.  But we were in the car, so it wasn’t so bad.  He eventually calmed down and choose another DVD from the pictures.  Soon he was smiling, laughing, and even singing a little song that made me smile, “Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory…..” Since Ben has so many communication challenges, hearing him sing is literally music to my ears.  As the saying goes, “All is well that ends well.”  Sure, there are challenges to being Ben’s mom, but I can assure you, the joys of being his mom far outweigh the challenges!

At 44 years old, I was shocked to discover that I had breast cancer.   I thought that my life was ending.  In retrospect, I can see that my life was only just beginning.   Not only did I face the challenge of battling the disease, but I did so with finesse, if I do say so myself.  Finding “The Perks of Having Cancer” has changed my life.  Five years ago, I would never have imagined myself as an award winning blogger, a best-selling author, and a sought after motivational speaker (I especially would not have believed the public speaking part!!!).  But here I am at 49, feeling more confident and accomplished than I ever dreamed possible.  Cancer has scarred my body and it has scarred my soul.  But like a phoenix who rises from its ashes, a new Flo has arisen from cancer.  I will never again be the person I was before my diagnosis!  I now realize that I am capable of accomplishing anything that I set my mind to.  I also know my own worth for the first time.   Yes, folks, life has been happy for me, that is for sure.

 The Truth

The truth is, we all have the crappy and we all have the happy.  It is where you choose to focus your attention that determines whether you live a crappy life, or you live a happy life. I believe that I am a happy person because I choose to focus on the good things in my life, and the life lessons that I have learned from the trials and tribulations.   Attitude is a choice.  Will you choose to focus on the crappy or the happy?  It’s completely up to you.

Crappy post

My SOS Sisters

For years, research has proven that support groups improve the quality of life for its members.   A recent study however, shows that not only the QUALITY of life can be enhanced by being a member of a supportive community,  but so too can the QUANITITY.  In other words, having a strong social support network may help you to live longer! (Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2013 Jan;137(1):261-71)  In this study, researchers examined data from 2, 264 woman who had been diagnosed with early stage, invasive breast cancer, and the results are very exciting!  While they did not look at cancer support groups in isolation, the researchers found that “Larger social networks have been associated with lower breast cancer mortality.”  In other words, the more social supports and networks you have, through family, friends and social groups, the less likely you are to die from breast cancer.  They concluded:  “…women with both small networks and low levels of support had a significantly higher risk of mortality than women with large networks and high levels of support.”

That’s good news for me!  In addition to the support I receive at my annual breast cancer retreat, I am also a member of a breast cancer support group called Sharing Our Strength (SOS), which was founded by cancer survivor, Joan Aucoin in 2003.  Through both face to face meetings and our Facebook page, group members share with each other information, tips and most importantly, moral support through the cancer journey (which I call “the journey that never ends!”).

I polled the members of my SOS support group with an open-ended question:  “What is the most valuable aspect of being part of this group for you?”   I then analyzed the results, and found seven common themes, as follows (Hey!  I am a Psychologist, so I am allowed to conduct my own research!):

Belonging:   By far the most common response reflected a sense of belonging to the sisterhood of survivors, and not being alone in the journey.

I am a member of the most amazing group of Sistas there is!!! We support each other in so many way, from diagnosis to years of survival!! I personally felt so alone even though my mother and sister were there for me always. The day I walked into Joan’s house for the first time, with the lovely Sherry Bishop, I was so nervous and emotional I almost got sick, being a very shy person. We had our circle of friends (sharing session) and I realized that I’m not alone. What an amazing and reassuring feeling!! From that time on it was bring on whatever life throws at me because I’m no longer alone in this battle!!”  (Lenora)

“I will never forget the first time I walked into Joan’s house, the hugs, love, strength, peace I received was amazing. I thought to myself, well I’m not the only one going through this terrible journey with cancer.”  (Christine)

Understanding:  Another common theme involved being in the company of those who truly know and understand what you are going through, because they have been there.

These people have felt the stab of hearing the same diagnoses: you have Cancer. They have felt the fear, worry and concern of wondering where this diagnosis will lead me. They have anxiously waited for the next test to be done, felt fear as the test was being done and lost sleep waiting to receive the results. They have felt concern wondering if the treatment would be successful. They have felt joy that it was successful and devastation when it wasn’t. They know what it is like to go on living always wondering will I be ok and for how much longer. Cancer has brought us together to support each other like no other person can, right down to the deepest emotions and feelings.”  (Paulette)

“It’s good to talk to people who have gone through this and who really get it. As fantastic as my family and friends are, you really need to talk with people who have been there themselves.”  (Donna)

Acceptance:  Several people reported a feeling of being in a safe environment where you are accepted for who you are, and you can share openly, without fear of judgement.

“For me, mostly, I think – IT’S A SAFE PLACE. No judgement, only support and sharing. These good people lift me up every day.” (Linda)

“For me this journey has me questioning who I really am. As a very curvy woman all my life, I now find myself struggling with my new GI Jane identity since my double mastectomy. At SOS, I can be real, raw and authentic and not get judged for it.”  (Denika)

“Having a place to turn where they “get it” and there is no judgement, and the confidentiality given for any comment or fear.”  (Judy)

Emotional support: The research on support groups lists emotional support as one of the greatest benefits of being a member of a support group.  It involves being able to share your fears and get comfort, strength and encouragement from other people.  

“The strength and support that these women have given me over the past 6 years is second to none. No one fights this disease alone, and that is evident in this group. Just speaking through personal experience, I had a biopsy yesterday morning and at 7:30 am, two of these ladies were waiting with me, making sure I had all I needed. I left and went to chemo where I was surrounded by at least a dozen ladies from our SOS group. The support that surrounded me in that room made me feel kinda sad for the other patients receiving treatment. I just wanted to shout “These are my girls!!!!” I just wanted them to know what it felt like to be me in that very moment in time. The SOS Group is my extended family.”  (Dana)

“SOS is my sisterhood in the most pure form. The ladies truly are my extended family.”  (Heather)

“We feel each other’s’ joys and pain. We ride the peaks and valleys of this roller coaster ride. We help each other. We share with each other,,,,,hugs, smiles, laughter, information, knowledge, experience,,,,oh and wine (and food)! When we are together, or even just on our Facebook  chats, we are wrapped in a secure safety net of love and healing.”  (Erin)


L to R: Sharon Foster, Dana Blackwood Cox (receiving chemo), Joan Aucoin and Beverly Kelly

Hope: This hope comes from seeing other survivors who are thriving, as well as from the words of encouragement and stories of hope you get from other survivors.

I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer right from the start so I really thought the road had ended for me. I was young with three small kids and really didn’t know how I was going to face this journey, let alone get through it. Then along came Joan and all of her beautiful angels. They all showed me that not only can you get through this, you can also have fun doing so. They have filled my life with so much hope. My extended family sees this new hope in me and has in turn helped them get through this journey. I feel like I owe all of these ladies for giving me my life back.”  (Nancy)

“The feeling of isolation when I was first diagnosed was deep and dark…the Internet was deeper and darker! Being together with these beautiful women replaced that dark isolation with flutters of hope, strength and undeniable sense of belonging….a feeling of “I am where I am supposed to be”. This group is my strength and safety and it fills my heart with love and gratitude.”  (Sherry)

 Inspiration:  Inspiration comes from observing how other survivors are living their lives, which then inspires you to want to live your best life.

The inspiration from so many amazing women has been a life-saver and powerful motivator. Just knowing if they can do it, I can do it, too; and to be able to lean on one another when the need is there.”  (Linda)

“For myself finding out that there are many survivors of breast cancer out there….cause when you hear the words ” you have cancer “…….well, it’s not a death sentence anymore.”  (Madelyn)

“I am amazed at the courage these ladies have and how it encourages those who are a little scared.” (Beverly) 

“Sometimes it takes something ugly to really see and understand beauty. I’ve never known anything as ugly as cancer, but I’ll never experience anything more beautiful than the love in this group of women.”  (Kellie Ray) 

L to R: Kerry Churchill Cheering on her SOS Sister, Diane Coffin


Knowledge:  On a more practical side, members benefit from the sharing of information about things such as treatment options, post cancer care, and reconstruction.  This knowledge leads to a sense of empowerment.

I have obtained a knowledge and understanding of breast cancer that I would not have gotten from reading.”  (Madonna)

“They are full of knowledge and have filled my life with so much hope”   (Nancy)

“One extremely important thing to me, especially in the last couple of weeks, is the honest, hard advice from my fellow sisters. Sometimes doctors don’t always tell the complete truth whether by choice or by innocent omission.”  (Lisa)

“It has given me resources, information and tools to help me in my daily fight to be the best I can be with the life I have been given.”  (Gen)

There is no doubt that being a member of a support group has enhanced my life, and that of my survivor sisters.   With this new research proving that having a strong social network and social support improves your odds of surviving cancer, well, I plan to be an SOS member for a very long time!