Cancer support group uses laughter as medicine

The thought of cancer may bring doom and gloom for many people, but for Richard McDaniel, 67, and Gaspard “Frenchie” Sossoyan, 84, it’s important to also inject laughter and warmth.

McDaniel and Sossoyan are members of a breast cancer support group that meets at the Marcia Ray Breast Center at Glendale Memorial Hospital. Even though their wives have passed, the two continue to attend the meetings to show their support for members who are battling the disease.

The group is in its 25th year and meets every second Thursday. The hallway leading to the small space where the group meets is decorated with photographs of group members, laughing and smiling at get-togethers.

McDaniel, 67, and Sossoyan, 84, are two of the longtime members of the group. Both began attending to support their wives who had been diagnosed with cancer.

McDaniel’s wife, Barbara, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 and they began attending group meetings in 2000. She passed away in 2012 at age 66.

“You learn a lot from the group, all the different trouble they’ve been through, all the chemotherapy and radiation,” McDaniel said. “It’s helped my wife quite a bit because I couldn’t take half of the stuff she went through. I would’ve given up half way through.”

Sossoyan joined the group a little later, in 2005, with his wife, Mary, was diagnosed with breast cancer around 2004. She passed away in 2011 at age 83.

“Sometimes your attitude helps you,” Sossoyan said on the impact of the group.

Meetings begin with introductions, where participants speak about their diagnosis and their experience with breast cancer. Among the group, there are members who are newly diagnosed and others who have survived the illness.

“The two groups work together to work out problems and give a lot of hope to the patients who are newly diagnosed and scared,” said Maryann Robertson, an administrative supervisor at Glendale Memorial who helps facilitates the group.

During the meeting, McDaniel and Sossoyan mostly listen, but share their wives’ stories whenever possible.

“I think the reason that they continue to come is that they feel a greater connection when they’re here with the group because it was such a big piece of their wives’ lives when they were alive,” Robertson said. “The group meant a lot to them and I think they did gain a lot of support from the other members.”

The group has become close-knit, attending events such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and Relay for Life together.

“They’ve become like family,” McDaniel said.

Robertson said it’s moving to see the two men attend the meetings and take part in events so faithfully.

“I find it so heartwarming to see them come to the meetings because I know how close they were to their wives and how much they still love them, even though that they’re gone and they truly, truly, truly do miss them,” she said.


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