There exists, just a few clicks away from the public social media pages, where people regularly post pictures of their idealized life, a quiet world, a secret sisterhood of women from different backgrounds, cultures and skin colors, united only by one thing, a disease that has altered their lives in inexplicable ways.
All of us have ovarian cancer.
There is an adoption process to gain access to this portal. The initiation begins with a sharing of each individual diagnosis and treatment story. And although we are alike in many ways, the tales are as varied as the women who tell them. We compare and comment, as we sew another stitch in the tapestry that binds us. And although nobody really wants to join this “family,” each new member is welcomed with open arms, readily accepted into the inner circle. It is a soft place to land when life has pushed you from the mountaintop into the uncertainty that lies below.
There are no barriers, no preconceived notions or judgments, as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in cyberspace, passing along advice and wisdom gathered from first-hand experience. No question posted here is too trivial or far-fetched. Somebody in the group always has an answer as we teach and console. There is ultimate healing in the exchanges, the on-going dialogue both emotionally and physically therapeutic.
We pray for each other, offering comfort and understanding when the challenges become too great to shoulder alone. And when the depression monster knocks at the door, delivering a big bag of melancholy, the sisters are there to offer a virtual hug, a dose of understanding. They get it: they have all been there.
Occasionally, there is a post that announces the sad news: a sister has earned her teal wings. And there is a collective cry of mourning. For although we have never met, the ties that bind us are strong and real. We grieve over the loss of one of our own, and silently wonder when the bell will toll for each of us.
But there are also soothing words of encouragement, miraculous accounts of long-term survival in spite of the pronouncements from an often-pessimistic medical community. We rejoice together and celebrate the good fortune, which, of course, means good health. We hold tightly to the inspiration that somehow delivers each of us a dose of hope, a reassurance that perhaps we too can enjoy a respite from the pain and suffering and experience a bit of normal once again. Optimism is ever-present as we wait for a cure.
It is interesting to me how every cloud has a silver lining if you know where to look for it. And this group has been mine. Their ongoing support has given me strength when I had none. Their tireless pep talks have gotten me through the many trials. Their resilience has made me strong. Their generosity of spirit has shown me that there is still abundant kindness in this world. But most importantly, they have demonstrated the power of courageous women who champion each other. A burden shared is a burden halved, right?
I am an only child. I suppose I have spent my whole life searching for my would-be sisters, the family I wasn’t born into, but chose. The irony is that I had to become so sick to find this one. Make no mistake, these teal warriors stand tall, braced for the battle. Their bravery helps me find mine. Hand in hand, we walk this difficult path. Together.