They’re In It Together
On a recent Monday night, Amy Jo Rager and Nicole Mechling sat around a table at a cancer support group listening and sharing stories. There was talk about families, relaxation techniques, and homecare.
A passerby might think this was just a half dozen people getting together for dinner in the IU Health Simon Tower at University Hospital. But Mechling’s t-shirt spelled it out for anyone who was curious: “Fighting a brain tumor every day is not a job for the weak.”
Rager and Mechling aren’t just friends; they are neighbors on the city’s southwest side. For the past four months, the two have joined others in the “First Mondays Cancer Support Care Group,” a free monthly program offering support and encouragement for cancer patients and their families. While the two friends joined their cancer support group, their kids took part in “children of parents with cancer.”
Rager’s son Devin, 13 and Mechling’s son Brayden, 12, have been friends since they started grade school, bringing the two women together. The boys are now in middle school together. Mechling brought her two daughters too, ages 15 and 10.
In October of 2015, Rager, 35, was diagnosed with an Oligodendroglia tumor – a slow-growing tumor that can cause seizures. She was in her final year at Indiana University pursuing a second degree when she had a stroke. Under the care of IU Health’s Dr. Edward Dropcho, who specializes in neuro-oncology, Rager had surgery in January 2016.
“I was told then that I only have five years. It’s like a countdown that I don’t keep track of,” said Rager, who is on disability. She can no longer drive and she can’t be alone because she never knows when she may suffer convulsions.
Mechling, 31, was diagnosed with a pituitary brain tumor in October 2016. Under the care of Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol, she goes for regular MRIs to monitor the tumor and may eventually face surgery, she said.
But on this recent weeknight, the two friends faced their diagnosis with the help of others – many with the same symptoms, the same fears.
“This gives us a chance to feel accepted and somewhat normal even though we are going through such great battles physically and emotionally,” said Mechling.
And in a nearby courtyard, their children played cards and talked about positive and negative aspects of their days.
They wrote down words like – “Sad,” “worried,” and “angry” and talked about ways to work through those feelings. Keeping a journal, drawing, and playing sports were all suggestions the kids offered.
Jodi Bauers, a Certified Child Life Specialist, encouraged the youngsters to find a trusted friend to talk to. She also talked to them about every day life – sleeping late in the summer, watching movies, and taking vacations. The serious talk about illness was sprinkled with laughter when the kids interjected a few jokes.
At the end of the evening, Mechling and Rager talked about what makes their bond special. “It sounds crazy but we look forward to this night. It helps us remain social and share our feelings with people who are going through the same thing,” said Mechling, who calls her friend after every doctor’s visit. “It’s hard for people with our condition to get out of the house, so this is important to us,” added Rager. It’s not unusual for the two women to go shopping together, or walk across the lawn to borrow some charcoal fluid for a barbeque.
“Sometimes it’s the blind leading the blind. I have memory loss, problems with vision and headaches and she has seizures,” said Mechling. “We try to keep our sense of humor and act a little goofy. It’s better going through this with a friend.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.