A cancer diagnosis can be a true exercise in letting go. When Monica Webster, who spent many years as a hospice nurse, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in November of 2015, she had to confront her own health challenge.
“After I completed therapies for my initial stage III diagnosis, I really struggled,” Monica says. “It was difficult not knowing what it means to live with cancer. I just had this need to know what was coming.”
Many breast cancer patients seek support across their community of family and friends, but sometimes the most meaningful support comes from those who are going through the same experience.
“A stage IV diagnosis is different because there is no end of your treatment,” explains Monica.
With this difference in mind, the FOURward support group was created nearly four years ago as a safe place for women with stage IV cancer to process what it’s like to live with advanced or metastatic cancer.
The small group of roughly five to 10 patients meets twice a month. It’s an important time for patients to process the gravity of their diagnosis and talk openly about their grief.
“It’s been such a great relief just knowing that there are people thinking the same things,” Monica says. “Sometimes it’s helpful to just acknowledge that I am scared – and that’s pretty normal.”
The FOURward support group is led by Chery Hysjulien, PsyD, a specialist in psych-oncology at Sanford Health. The patients share everything from relaxation techniques to practical advice about how to cope with symptoms. They can discuss their everyday concerns and find comfort in their shared feelings.
“The more you talk about it, you start to hear the same things in a different language,” says Monica. “People talking about surrendering, people talking about how you should only hold onto what’s really important to you.”
In this group, there are also unspoken understandings. They are present to offer each other feedback on the tough topics, but also the wonderful things – like birthdays, holidays, vacations and grandkids.
“Everyone understands that all we have is right now,” Monica explains. “We don’t have to explain how impactful that is to each other because we just know. Which is really nice because sometimes there aren’t words to describe how you’re feeling – or at least I can’t find them.”
By coming together to focus on what they can do, the FOURward group members define their lives not by a diagnosis, but by how they choose to live anew each day.