Last May, New Market local Josette Miller accompanied her mother, Theresa Knapp, to a walk-in medical clinic.
Judging from her mother’s symptoms, which included shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing, Miller assumed Knapp had a bad case of bronchitis.
Expecting the doctor to prescribe an antibiotic and send them home, Josette was surprised when he advised taking her mother to the emergency room.
Hours later, at Rockingham Memorial Hospital, the pair received shocking news.
“The doctor asked if he could shut the door, and I thought ‘Whoa, doctors never shut the door,’ ” recalled Josette. “He came in and said [to her] ‘you have cancer.’ ”
The diagnoses threw the family for a loop.
“Cancer’s not in our family,” she explained. “We had no experience about how to deal with it.”
Wanting some guidance, Josette looked for a cancer support group in the Valley. Though she found a few, she said they were designated for specific cancers, or met during typical workday hours. Unable to find the right fit, Josette and her husband Paul decided to create their own support group.
With assistance from the American Cancer Society, the Millers established the Valley Cancer Support Group. The VCSG meets on the second Tuesday of each month in New Market. Anyone affected by cancer is welcome; a separate room is provided for children and teens.
“A lot of people think kids don’t know [what’s going on] or that they don’t need to know, but they do,” remarked Paul.
The upcoming September meeting will focus on the Rely for Life, an overnight community fundraising walk sponsored by the ACS. Upcoming speakers include a nutritionist at the October meeting.
While the couple wants the VCSG to be informative, the main goal is to allow those with cancer to connect with others in similar situations.
“It’s one thing for me to talk to [my mom], but it’s totally different to talk to someone who’s been through it,” acknowledges Josette.
In addition to her devoted daughter and son-in-law, Knapp also has grandchildren who are eager to help.
The Millers’ son Tyler, 21, temporarily moved in with his grandmother to help with household chores and yard work. Meanwhile, their daughter Jessica, 14, shaved her head as a sign of solidarity.
Though some family members expressed
apprehension about the idea, Jessica says she never second guessed her decision.
“I was going for it,” she said, smiling.
Knapp, who has stage four lung cancer, is currently undergoing chemotherapy.
Other than some hair loss and occasional fatigue, she says she’s experienced “no side effects” from the treatments.
However, Knapp does have a touch of cabin fever, and says she misses working as a cashier at Sharp Shopper Grocery Outlet in Harrisonburg.
While receiving a cancer diagnosis was frightening, she relies on her spiritual faith for strength.
“You just have to believe in God,” Knapp remarked.
“And take it one day at a time.”
Contact Katie King at (540) 574-6271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Valley Cancer Support Group
Meets from 7-8 p.m. second Tuesdays at Woods Chapel Independent Bible Church in New Market. For more information, email email@example.com.
For additional support or guidance in dealing with a personal diagnosis or that of a loved one, call the American Cancer Society support line at (800) 227-2345.