The Club No One Wants to Join

As you travel through life, you may be surprised to find that you have inadvertently joined a club without registering or paying membership dues, just by experiencing what life sends your way.

Women in hospital receiving chemotherapy while reading a magazine. She is Judy, inventor of the Best Breast Vest which is more comfortable than any mastectomy bra.When you drive around in a friend’s vintage car, you find you have joined the old car-lover’s club, whose members feel free to stick their heads in the window to look at the interior when you are stopped at the lights. When you buy your first house, you join the homeowners’ club whose members roam the aisles at the hardware store looking for solutions to never ending repairs and improvements. When you have your first child, you are suddenly one of the parents’ club, the recipient of advice or wordless sympathy from other parents when you are struggling in public with a raucous baby or toddler having a tantrum. You have an immediate connection with complete strangers who recognize a fellow traveller, and an instantaneous network of support, empathy and advice.

Not all clubs have a pleasant port of entry. In Japan, the Bald Men’s Club is there if you lose your hair. In Australia, the Bite Club welcomes you if you lose a chunk of yourself to a shark.  

And all over the world, women and men find themselves suddenly inducted into the Breast Cancer Club, an entree of shock, fear and grief. No one, least of all yourself, is pleased that you have joined. Commiserations are written on the welcome mat.

When I sent this picture to my family boasting of getting the best seat in the chemo suite on my first day of treatment, the reply came back that it was a seat they never wanted to see me in.

Despite how you join, it remains true that you have instant access to the interest and support of other patients and survivors. Tapping in to their experiences provides a source of calming information. Practical advice on surgery, scars, rashes and other side effects come with a dose of encouragement and understanding.

Just as you can’t help but join, you can’t help but progress through the ranks from anxious entrant to determined traveller, counting down the treatments to graduate. As you look into your future, you have to decide if you want to remain in the club. Unlike the poor shark bite victims, who must forever deal with a missing limb, breast cancer survivors can recover their health and mobility completely. Some people react with a complete aversion to any reminder of their diagnosis. They dislike the colour pink and associated breast cancer ribbons. They hate the month of October because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They avoid all triggers. Others wish to remain engaged and do so by becoming mentors to new members to assure them that “this too will pass”.

It’s now almost three years since my own diagnosis. I look back at photos of myself when I was bald, then with a cap of silver curls, then increasingly brown with an abundance of ringlets, and I hardly recognise myself.  I have felt the temptation to disconnect completely from the experience. I find it difficult to read people’s diagnosis and fears now that I am free of the fears. But, like most survivors, I want to give back. Sharing my vests is my way of remaining in the club I never wanted to join.

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