- Associated Press - Sunday, September 24, 2017

HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP) - Every cancer journey has a story, but if the story is never shared, how can it be heard? How can others cry over the story? Or laugh? How can they relate to the story? How can they benefit from it?

That’s the premise behind “My Story,” a project undertaken by Cancer GPS (Guide Posts of Strength), a High Point nonprofit that assists cancer patients and their loved ones. Individuals from the cancer community - patients, caregivers, loved ones, nurses, volunteers - share their stories in a public forum, primarily on Facebook, where others can read and hopefully benefit from them.

“We might not always remember a five-point list or a PowerPoint presentation,” explains Michelle DeWitt, who manages the “My Story” project for Cancer GPS. “But stories can be very powerful - we tend to remember stories.”

Stories can be especially beneficial to someone who’s facing a cancer diagnosis, DeWitt says.

“If you have something like that happen to you, and you feel isolated or alone with it, and then you read a story of someone else who’s going through or has been through the same thing, there’s this solidarity that is formed,” she says. “It diminishes your sense of being alone or different. You connect with that, and it’s very powerful.”

According to DeWitt, about 40 stories have been posted on the Cancer GPS Facebook page so far, and new stories are being added weekly. Each story includes a photo of the person telling the story to personalize it even more.

One such story is that of Avis Murphy, a breast-cancer survivor from High Point who posted about having to deal with the intense pain of post-mastectomy pain syndrome.

“There are some days where I can’t move,” she wrote. “…This kind of pain, it gets to the point that even if you get busy, you can’t forget about it. Like, it is not something that is going to just go away. Chemo, surgeries - all that you can get through, but not the pain.”

Despite having a passion for sharing her cancer story and encouraging others, Murphy says she found it difficult to talk about her weakness and vulnerability.

“It was humbling,” she says. “It’s very difficult to expose the uncomfortable side of life, but I hoped it would bridge a gap. I hoped someone else would read it and think, ‘If she can get through it, maybe I can, too.’ As people, we like to know we’re not the only one going through what we’re going through.”

Murphy’s teenage son, Levi, also shares his story, explaining how difficult it was for him - and how scary - to have his mother going through cancer.

Other posts on the “My Story” page address the emotions of facing a cancer diagnosis.

Cancer survivor Brenda Blodgett, for example, wrote about the frustration of friends and family “tiptoeing” around her, not knowing what to say or how to act around her after her diagnosis. “Just talk to me - you know, laugh, make me laugh again,” she wrote. “Just . be there. That was hard for me, because I felt alone. And when I was down, I really felt alone.”

Another survivor, teacher Lunda Stanley, shared how she handled her cancer diagnosis with her kindergarten students, explaining that she encouraged them to rub her bald head for luck when her hair fell out, and even put little stick-on tattoos on her head, which they thought was cool. She also had frank conversations with her students, telling them what was happening and why.

Years later, Stanley received a phone call from a former student.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” the student said. “I had to call you and thank you. When I was in your class, you had cancer. I remember how you made us laugh and how you told us all of the things that were going on. I wanted to tell you, my mother was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago. I thought back on all of the things that you did for us and showed us - how to talk about it, laugh and explain what was going on. What you did helped me to understand what my mother was going through. I just wanted to call you and say thank you.”

In addition to the Facebook posts, the “My Story” project includes the placement of posters in area businesses as an outreach to the community. There’s currently such a display at Bank of North Carolina.

DeWitt says she’s been warmed by positive feedback she’s received about the project, and she hopes it will continue to grow.

“Through the first-person accounts of ‘My Story,’ we share this journey together,” she says, “creating a world with a better understanding of this life-altering disease and of the personal strength of each person on the journey.”


Information from: High Point Enterprise, https://www.hpenews.com

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