Finding Your People

No doubt, living with a cancer diagnosis can be incredibly isolating. There are so many complex issues that come with being diagnosed at a younger age—especially when it’s a gynecological cancer that disproportionally affects women ages 55 and older.

Since I was diagnosed at just 29 years old, I had not yet reached many milestones that most older women get to experience (i.e., marriage, having children, undergoing age-induced menopause, retirement, and so on). This became particularly apparent when I decided to dial into an ovarian cancer patient support group call one day, a few weeks after my diagnosis.

Looking for Support

This was my only attempt at participating in any formally organized cancer support group, as it was a resource provided by my cancer center. The hour-long phone call was an extremely alienating experience, as I was the youngest person in attendance by at least 35 years. I shared my diagnosis story and was welcomed with the echoing words: “But you’re so young.”

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Every woman in the group was diagnosed later in life—years after having children, or even grandchildren for that matter. Most of the attendees were retired, and all of them had already undergone menopause several years before their diagnosis. However, I was facing issues that are unique to being diagnosed as a young adult—most significantly in regards to the loss of my fertility and the subsequent decision as to whether or not I should freeze my eggs before surgery.

I had questions regarding fertility, surgical menopause, disability, and so much more, but unfortunately, none of these women were able to help me. At this point, I knew that I needed to search elsewhere for other young ovarian cancer patients like myself. Not only did I need guidance, but I also needed a community.

However, finding support isn’t always easy for everyone. Many people are very private about their lives, especially their health. Not to mention, after cancer treatment is over, many patients want to move on as if nothing happened to them. But for others, moving on doesn’t come so easily.

After being diagnosed with cancer in your twenties, you aren’t able to bond with your peers the same way as before or share many of the same life experiences. And so, having a community of others in similar positions is vital—at least for me.

Creating A Community

While this isn’t a choice or even an option for every cancer patient, it certainly can be possible through the power of social media combined with a little bit of nerve. After much hard work scouring the Internet far and wide, I eventually found my own group of “teal sisters.” Over the past few years, we have organized bi-monthly video calls to share our stories and commiserate over our hardships. We figured if you can’t find the support you need, you need to build the support yourselves.

Last September, in honor of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we arranged our first-ever annual “survivor’s retreat,” where more than a dozen of us spent a week together in Nashville, Tennessee. These young women immediately became my family, as we are sisters bonded together by this horrible disease.

I have always said that the silver lining of receiving a cancer diagnosis is the community of fellow ovarian cancer patients that you meet along the way. This September, we are going to get together again for our second annual survivor’s retreat in Arizona, and I am so looking forward to continuing our shared healing as we navigate “life after cancer” together. We are all living proof that ovarian cancer can happen to anyone with ovaries at any age.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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