Cancer thrivers: The friends I didn’t know I needed

Cancer thrivers: The friends I didn’t know I needed

By Ashley Morine

“There are rare people who will show up at the right time, help you through the hard times and stay into your best times… Those are the keepers.”

– Nausicaa Twila

When I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma, I was inconsolable. I laid sleepless in bed every night crying, panicking. Convinced cancer was going to kill me by the time I turned 30, nothing mattered. “Why brush my teeth, I’m going to die young anyway?” this dental hygienist said to herself.

I felt alone, so alone, like I was the only one to ever hear “You have cancer.” I was the first of my social circle to receive news like this. After all, I was only 27.

The morning of my diagnosis, the first person I called was my mother.

Ashley: “Mom, it’s cancer.”
Mom: “Oh no. Sweetie, you’ll be ok, you’ll get through it.”

Similar conversations happened with my husband and friends. They listened, and provided what advice and support they could at all hours of the day despite not having lived this experience.

The panic ebbed and flowed through the 30 days leading up to treatment. I’d nap to pass time away and wake up remembering cancer wasn’t just a bad dream. I’d call a friend, and for a 20-minute window, I didn’t think about cancer until I hung up the phone.

What did I need? I needed to know that once I got through treatment and onto a routine monitoring schedule that cancer wouldn’t be the only thing on my mind.

I realized I had to speak to someone who had lived through ocular melanoma, someone who would tell me I would be ok, but how?

Ten days post diagnosis, I found a group on Facebook called “Ocular Melanoma Support.” Longing to calm my mind, I put my raw feelings out there, on a Facebook group wall to a bunch of strangers from all over the world.

Immediately upon posting, I had support through online messages, phone and video calls from ocular melanoma patients worldwide telling me their relatable negative experiences, but also their positive experiences. This was key. They told me the dark days disappear with time, and feelings of despair turn eventually turn to immense feelings of gratitude and appreciation.

“[They told] me their relatable negative experiences, but also their positive experiences. This was key.”

These “OMies” (as we call ourselves) became friends who checked in on me before, during, and after treatment. These were strangers who I shared my most vulnerable self with, and now, three years later, I have some pretty incredible friends. Friends I have visited in various cities across Canada, the US, and even Australia! Friends I never would’ve met if a freckle in my eye hadn’t turned on me.

My “OMie” Ian and I met in Brisbane, Australia in October 2019. Ian was one of the first people to reach out to me on the ocular melanoma support page.

Upon discovering the incredible power of support groups in 2017, I yearned for the day I would be through the worst of it to be able to offer the same support I received to someone navigating through their journey. I never felt the day would come, but I’m writing from these days now.

Enter YACC. WHAT!? An entire support network for young Canadian adults facing cancer? AMAZING. I learned of YACC during treatment at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. Once I contacted YACC, I was connected via Facebook to a group of over 1,000 young adults in different stages of their cancer journeys.

These folks understood the worries I had regarding fertility and radiation, the shit storm that was navigating cancer and a new marriage, and the financial hardship cancer can cause when you’re young and have limited savings.

YACC has allowed me to offer the support and positivity I dreamed of providing back in 2017.

As a YACCtivist, I have been given a national outlet to provide my personal experience with cancer. I’m able to offer the same hope that was given to me — the hope that unequivocally got me through my toughest days.

Fellow YACCtivits Keri and Mandy.
I’m so grateful for their friendship.

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