Roberta Hufnagel, Metastatic Support Group Facilitator

Roberta Hufnagel, Metastatic Support Group Facilitator

I'm a social worker and psychotherapist and I'm now 70 years old. I was just 36 when told I needed a mastectomy and a year of chemo. I learned about SHARE 5 years later and became a group facilitator soon after. In 1986 SHARE began the only metastatic breast cancer support group in NYC, and perhaps the only one in the country. I became the facilitator and have led the group ever since. SHARE now offers three groups, for women living with metastatic breast cancer. Two groups (which I facilitate) meet weekly and the third group meets monthly. Two of the groups meet in SHARE's NYC office and the other group is conducted via conference call. The phone group enables women to have the advantages of peer support if they are either too far from Manhattan or are unable to come into the office.

Many women reading this article probably know how helpful it is to talk to others who have the same diagnosis and deal with similar issues. Even though each individual is unique, their cancer is unique and their circumstances are unique, there are still many commonalities that make sharing feelings, thoughts, experiences, and information extremely valuable and encouraging. Chances are, whatever is on your mind is also on the mind of someone else. Expressing it and having it validated often results in feeling relieved.

Difficulties arise in the group that can be painful to talk about. At times, there is sadness to deal with. I have learned over and over again that these times, as hard as they may be, are surmountable when they are aired and shared with others who understand. It is common to confuse sadness with depression, yet they are totally different. Depression is an overall feeling of despair and hopelessness and the reason for it is not identifiable. Sadness, on the other hand, is what we feel when there is a cause. Sadness is an unpleasant emotion that will usually, eventually pass if one can talk about the cause of the feeling. When there is sadness in the group, we help one another put it in perspective, deal with our own fears, and reorient ourselves toward hopefulness.

Thanks to all the women who have participated in the groups over the years. My life is so much richer. Perhaps the best and most valuable lesson for me has been to appreciate the ordinary bits of my everyday life. While I don't know my destiny (and wouldn't want to) I do know that one of the things I treasure most is being a part of the metastatic support groups.