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You’ve got a friend

Kim McGaughey’s friends helped her fight cancer with the healing power of parties

Kim and her friends had a pajama party as one of their many themed chemo parties.

“When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand... close your eyes and think of me and soon I will be there...". James Taylor’s “You’ve got a friend” has become an anthem for a group of women who rallied around their friend during her cancer treatments.

Kim McGaughey is a four-time cancer survivor. In 2008, she was diagnosed with stage 1B cervical cancer and stage 4 breast cancer. After beating her cervical cancer and getting her breast cancer under control, Kim was blindsided by a cervical cancer recurrence in 2011 that had metastasized to her lungs. Now, in 2014, Kim has just finished chemotherapy for her second recurrence of cervical cancer.

For most, a journey like this would make you understandably negative – but not Kim. Kim and her daughter, Kara, and a group of Kim’s closest friends turned her daunting, 8-hour chemotherapy infusion treatments into celebrations, which they aptly named “chemo parties.”

 

Chemo parties

“I think the chemo party idea grew from the concept of having a support system,” said Kim’s friend Chris Clarke.

“It started with just a few friends chatting and coloring, and then it kind of mushroomed from there,” Kim’s friend Melody Titus explained further. “People just started showing up, and we soon realized that we can make a party out of this. Why not party?”

The chemo parties continued to grow, and the group of women even developed party themes, such as Alice and Wonderland, the ’60s, and beach and pajama parties. Most recently, the women decided to do an “Inspiring Women” theme. They were all surprised when each of them decided on their own to dress as Kim.

“It’s an amazing group of women, powerfully healing, and you can feel the energy in the room,” said Kim. “From dancing or laughing, to playing or being sad—it all has this powerful feeling.”

Friends supporting friends

“Support comes in a lot of different ways,” said Kim’s physician, Mary Helen Hackney, M.D., medical oncologist and member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “Chemotherapy doesn’t always feel great, but here’s a group of women who have rallied together around Kim and said to her, ‘We love you, we care for you, and we’re going to support you during this difficult time.’”

Kim and her daughter and friends were joined by Richmond singer-songwriter Susan Greenbaum, who became a part of the group, coming to the chemo parties to play her guitar, sing and dance with them. Greenbaum even composed a song from a poem Kim had written about her cancer experience (see bottom of page).

“Music is extremely healing. It just hits your insides, and you can feel it. By going with that flow and energy, the whole body responds, and I think it responds not only emotionally, but physically,” said Kim.

Kim and her group of friends toast after another successful (and Kim's last) chemo party.

Treating the emotional side of cancer

Often, the emotional side of cancer can be difficult on both the patients and their caregivers, and it can negatively affect a patient’s quality of life. It is estimated that 70 percent of cancer survivors experience depression at some time during their journey, and it can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms are often so similar to the side effects of treatment. It’s important to find ways to cope, like Kim found with her chemo parties.

“As cancer physicians, people think we only deal with badness,” said Hackney. “And there is a lot of badness. But when you have this kind of strength coming from so many people supporting you, it reaffirms that we’re in the business of living, and we’re in the business of living well.”

Kim recently learned that she no longer has any detectable cancer. “I have no doubt that the parties have helped my healing. I have no doubts of that at all,” she said.

 “You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am... Ain't it good to know you've got a friend? Ain't it good to know you've got a friend?” – James Taylor

Mending the Wound and Living with My Cancer by Kim McGaughey

I AM HEALING
I feel loving friends surrounding me
I AM HEALING
I see colorful flowers everywhere I turn
I AM HEALING
I dance with my friends to the powerful music
I AM HEALING
I feel the pounding roar of life, the James River within me 
I AM HEALING
I feel the healing energy of dancing cells throughout me
I AM HEALING
My body knows how to heal, we’ve done it before
I AM HEALING
I am safe
I feel peace
I feel stillness
My cancer is asleep again
I am a blue heron soaring in flight
I will hold Kara’s child in my arms ten years from now

Written by: Alaina Schneider

Posted on: September 30, 2014