By Renee Lee CTW Features
The Salem News
---- — Laura! Jane! Laura! This went on for a few minutes because Laura forgot to ask Jane what room she was in on the sixth floor. The two went on screaming until they found each other in the hall. Then, it was like something out of a movie, Laura says.
The two hugged, and cried and laughed at the same time. They reached over and touched the tufts of hair on each other’s otherwise-bald heads. Just as everything else they’d shared as “breast cancer sisters” during the past 11 months, at that moment both women shared similar amounts of regrown tufts of hair on their heads.
Breast cancer survivor and lawyer-turned-rock-musician Laura Roppe turned to an online forum the day she got diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. The next day, as if a private prayer had been answered, Jane Barker from Sheffield, U.K., wrote that she had been diagnosed with exactly the same type of breast cancer on the same day. The two also went on to start their chemotherapy treatments on the same day.
While Roppe also had what she called “flesh and blood” friends and family that supported her, she found one of her biggest sources of support online. Roppe, of San Diego, is just one of many people now turning online to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to seek support when a diagnosis of breast cancer is found. Many women are starting online groups to unite all of their friends and family, which makes sharing information easy, fast and effective. It also makes connecting with strangers going through the same thing easier, something that can be a source of both strength and information for women that often feel alone and isolated.
“Just being diagnosed the same day as someone doesn’t ensure a lifelong bond,” Roppe says of Barker. “We were meant to be sisters, though. We bonded over our love for the BBC version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and I called her ‘My dearest Jane.’”
Roppe chronicled the emails she and Jane sent back and forth in her book “Rocking the Pink: Finding Myself on the Other Side of Cancer” (Seal Press, 2012).
Marci A. Schmitt from Chandler, Ind., turned online to find information and support and wrote “March Forth” (Outskirts Press, 2011) as a way to provide support for others battling breast cancer.
Schmitt was diagnosed in January 2009. Her mother had passed away from breast cancer in 2004, and she went on to lose her father-in-law and brother to cancer in the years surrounding her own battle.
After talking to another survivor who went on to give talks around the country Schmitt hung up the phone with one goal in mind: write a book and provide support for others in her shoes.
She wrote and wrote until she couldn’t think of anything else to write, Schmitt says, and it was a full year until she told anyone she’d written the book, not even Steve, her husband of nearly 20 years.
A “real sisterhood”
Schmitt acknowledges two websites in the front of her book: breastcancer.org and breastcancer.about.com. She got information on what would be happening to her body, asked questions, and received answers full of support and love.
On the other side of that, however, some people expressed their negativity through the forums Schmitt read. She certainly wasn’t about that.
“Something I kept telling myself, was even though I didn’t want to go through all of this there were so many others struggling and many worse off than me,” Schmitt says. “I learned from my mom not to have a pity party. I chose to not let cancer run my life.”
Schmitt has a blog for her book, 4MarchForth.com, and created a Facebook page for it. She’s hoping to move to the point where she can share a weekly tidbit with others to foster a community of support.
Both Schmitt and Roppe are huge proponents of support groups, whether they be online or in person.
“It’s a real sisterhood,” Roppe says. “You know you’re not alone, and when you’re talking to people who have been there, you’re free to be honest and you can share things you can’t share with others.”
Roppe is currently still part of a Facebook group with 150 women who share the common thread of all having had triple-negative breast cancer.
The best support
Sometimes, friends just need to let you know they’re available, Roppe says. People would drop by, bring a magazine, drop off some chicken noodle soup or send an email to check up, she says.
Having people treat her “like a normal person” was very important. She recalls a moment when a friend asked if she had seen the previous night’s “American Idol.” When it’s not all about cancer and mortality, you can begin to feel human again, Roppe says.
During her journey through cancer, Schmitt says she and her husband learned to accept help from other people. About three times a week, whether it was a friend or family member, someone would bring over meals for the family, which includes sons Corey, 16, and Clay, 13, and a stepdaughter, Lindsay, 29.
Schmitt’s biggest pieces of advice for friends and family members who aren’t sure how to act in front of a cancer-stricken loved one? Don’t come with pity in your eyes, Schmitt says. And don’t talk about other people you’ve known who have died. That’s the last thing anyone with cancer wants to hear, she says.
Roppe recalled the very worst days when she was in the thick of chemotherapy and love from her kids carried her through.
“I would feel little tiny lips kissing my bald head,” Roppe says of her daughters Sophie and Chloe, who were in third and first grade at the time of her treatment. “Then they’d squish into bed with me and I could feel their warmth.”
On the other
side of cancer
After it was all said and done, Schmitt had two mastectomies and has now been cancer-free for three years. She’s going on quarterly visits and has been scanning clear, and is taking things one day at a time.
Roppe currently has no evidence of disease, and it’s been that way for the past three years.
Just weeks before the diagnosis Roppe signed a record deal with a London-based record level, achieving a longtime dream of hers. The diagnosis left Roppe with what she calls in her book, a “victory” in the sense that she quit her law job and dedicated herself full time to music.
“I followed my heart, my voice,” Roppe says. “Don’t wait until you get cancer until you do what you really want to do.”
The question everyone has after reading her book, Roppe says, is “What about Jane? How is Jane?” Barker, forever Roppe’s breast cancer sister, also is in recovery and is doing great, Roppe says.