Vicki Shapiro wasn’t chosen to lead a sarcoma support group. The role became her mission after her battle against a rare form of cancer
Shapiro found herself in the Sarcoma Support Group at the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center more than three years ago after she was diagnosed with the disease.
Sarcoma, a cancer that attacks connective tissue, bone, cartilage, and muscles, is rare with less than 12,000 cases diagnosed annually in the United States.
Shapiro underwent surgery, radiation and chemotherapy at the Cancer Center during an intense 9 months of treatments. After her journey, she wanted to be there for others as the support group and friends had been there for her.
“We are like a family,” she says recalling her months in the sessions. “We share a great appreciation for life and thankfulness for the doctors, staff, and medicine that give us an opportunity to choose life over cancer. I stay involved because I don’t want to forget to be thankful for every day God gives me to live.”
Shapiro, a USAA employee, wife and mother of a 16-year old daughter, has been cancer free for three years. During the sessions she leads, she shares her experiences to help others deal with their cancer treatment.
“When you’re going through it, the journey can be difficult,” she acknowledges. “It helps to be able to share what you are going through with others who have been through the same situation.”
During the process, group members often bond with each other. “We become more like a family,” Shapiro says. “We even spend time together outside the group sessions on occasion, like participating on the Cancer Center team for fundraising events benefiting the Phase 1 Clinic. Many of us have exhausted conventional chemotherapy options and clinical trials are our option if the cancer spreads or reoccurs.”
The Sarcoma Support Group meets every second Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. in the Cancer Center library in the Grossman Building. About 10-12 people usually attend the sessions, including caregivers.
“Family and others who care for patients are touched by the disease,” Shapiro explains. “As caregivers, they need support and healing as well for the stress they go through on their part of the journey.”
The program for the group meetings usually includes a speaker on a topic related to surviving the cancer, such as information about clinical trials or oncology specialists.
“Often we have dedicated doctors and staff at the Cancer Center who come visit with the group in the evenings, even after a long day at the center,” Shapiro says admiringly.
As the group leader, Shapiro gains a large measure of satisfaction from watching her fellow cancer survivors conquer their fears. “A new patient, just out of surgery, will come and listen for the first few sessions. Soon the person is offering advice to others who are new to the group,” she notes.
That kind of personal growth mirrors Shapiro’s own cancer experience.
“I have a sense of peace now,” she explains. “I live each day with no regrets. My journey has helped me remember how special life is.”