Sharing hope, healingHOPEful Living women's cancer support group offers help in Haywood County
Right after her first chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer in 2010, Michele Trantham headed over to a HOPEful Living meeting.
Her doctor recommended the women’s cancer support group, and she wanted to take advantage of all of her options for care and support in her fight against cancer. By the end of that meeting, she was glad she hadn’t skipped it.
“I didn’t feel as scared about everything because I knew there were people I can talk to,” she said. “I didn’t realize how many people are diagnosed with this. The people in the group help you see that there is life beyond the cancer diagnosis and treatment.”
As Trantham’s treatment progressed, she would feel sick, lose her hair and go through many of the other stresses of cancer treatment, but through it all, she could see survival in the women of the HOPEful Living group.
“You see survivors, and they’re doing fine,” Trantham said. “When you get diagnosed, it’s not the end of the world.”
HOPEful Living began in 2007 when it was decided that a support group for women battling cancer was needed in Haywood County.
Sandi Riggs, one of the organizers of the group, said she moved to the area from Michigan, where she’d gone through breast cancer treatments 12 years ago. In addition to a support group, there were many options for complimentary therapies, such as art classes, available to her.
“I took advantage of all of them,” Riggs said. “But they didn’t really have that here. I thought that this was a great thing to have a support group here.”
Although Riggs is in remission now, she still wants to support other women in their fight with cancer.
“We can be the people resource,” she said. “I wanted to be there for people, especially the newly diagnosed, and I want to keep learning because I don’t want to have cancer again.”
There are about 35 members in the group, but about eight to 10 women usually come to the monthly meetings, which are from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at the MedWest Fitness Center in Clyde.
When Nancy Parrish saw an announcement for a HOPEful Living meeting a few years ago, she was excited to attend, and she has been a member ever since.
A bladder cancer survivor, Parrish was part of an online support group, but she still felt isolated and depressed after her diagnosis.
“The mental part is just as important as the physical part,” she said. “I was so depressed. I needed somebody to talk to.”
Even though many of the members of HOPEful Living have or are in remission from breast cancer, any cancer diagnosis triggers similar feelings and emotions. What’s important is having people who understand to talk to, Parrish said.
“I know how it feels to be lonesome. I know how it feels to be scared and to run out of hope,” she said. “I want to reach out to people. I think it’s therapy to share each other’s stories. I think it gives hope to everybody.”
Trantham agreed, and said that although her family has been very supportive, sometimes friends and others will not know what to say to her after finding out about her cancer.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” she said, but at HOPEful Living meetings, “you’re around people who understand what you’ve been through and can relate.”
While every woman is welcome to talk and share, Parrish adds that there is no pressure to talk about yourself at the meetings. She said every individual’s privacy is respected because everyone deals with her diagnosis differently.
“Some are very private and only their closest family and friends know that they have cancer,” she explained.
But the HOPEful Living group isn’t just about talking about being sick. It also focuses on getting better, and Riggs often schedules informative meetings with doctors and other health care professionals to talk about health care options, nutrition, technology and many other topics to help people get better and stay healthy.
And there is plenty of laughter and friendship, too.
“You need a backbone, a wishbone and a funny bone to fight cancer,” said Parrish, quoting a saying she’s heard many times before. “And it’s true. You need to be able to laugh. It gives you hope.”
For information on HOPEful Living, contact Sandy Riggs at 627-9666.