Renee Rysdyk has a simple mantra when it comes to the cancer support group she started several years ago.
“None of us are professionals, but we have experience to share,” she said.
Rysdyk, a breast cancer survivor of six years, said the support group meets the last Monday of each month at Soldotna Bible Chapel at 11:30 a.m. The group usually has about a half-dozen to 12 members attend.
She started the group with four women, three of whom has been diagnosed within 11 months of each other and a longtime cancer survivor.
“A couple of the other gals and I decided we should have a support group because we were finding out that more people were being diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said.
Usually the group spends time catching up on personal matters before discussing upcoming testing, friends with cancer and sharing personal experiences.
“Nobody is ever put on the spot,” Rysdyk said. “If they don’t want to talk, they don’t have to. Typically those who say they don’t want to share anything, after they hear the ladies talk, they usually open up and are eager to share with someone who understands what they are going through.”
The group also discusses new drugs or treatments that have come on to the market in addition to sharing testing methods and other cancer-related information.
“Sometimes when you are going through cancer, you feel like you have entered a different world,” Rysdyk said. “Even those people that are closest to you don’t completely understand what it is like when you are the one meeting with the doctors, and you are the one laying under the radiation machine or you are the one getting prepped for surgery. You meet new people when you are going through treatment that the rest of your family doesn’t know — the oncology nurses become like another family to you.”
She said those women who regularly attend the support meetings have grown closer together and “have a lot of fun.”
“We really enjoy getting together and a lot of the women say when they go home they feel very refreshed and encouraged and even one of the husbands said, ‘Wow, I love it when my wife goes because she always comes home so happy,’” she said. “We have some long term survivors that have been cancer-free 11, 16 years and when you see that, it gives you a lot of hope.”
Comfort is a priority at the group, especially for newcomers.
“I don’t think it is for everyone,” she said. “Some women are very hesitant to share anything and they feel stronger when they carry a burden by themselves. But, I would say that would be the minority.”