Take What You Have and Build Community

“This, too.” ~ Tara Brach

Trevor Maxwell is one of my favorite human beings. He is a kind, connected, enterprising person who holds his family and friends at an extraordinarily high level. When Trevor found out he had stage four colon cancer at age 42, the pain of the illness was nothing to him compared to the pain his diagnosis placed on those he was closest to.

His first reaction when he got the news was to shut down, to remove himself from those he loved most. For a year after his diagnosis, he struggled through multiple surgeries and chemotherapy only to find out that the cancer kept returning. Trevor was in for the fight of his life but he didn’t want to fight. He wanted to crawl into a cave and disappear. Depression, understandably, overwhelmed him. But the bonds he’d formed over the years with family and friends meant that no one was ready for him to disappear. His wife told him simply, “You are still here. And you have to fight.”

Trevor is a professional writer and started writing his story, expressing his fears and his hopes. And he started writing to others on a mix of social media sites. Others found him incredibly helpful as he explained various options for those with similar cancer diagnoses. By reaching out, he gradually became part of a larger cancer community. And he started to connect in person with doctors and others in Colontown, “an online community of over 100 “secret” groups on Facebook for colon cancer patients and survivors.” You can find out more their site at colontown.org

Trevor also started attending sessions at the Maine-based Dempsey Center which provides free services to those fighting all kinds of cancer. What surprised Trevor was that most of the people he met, online and in person, were women. He knew that men also got cancer – but where were they? He asked fellow participants and heard the same story over and over: Men with cancer tend to keep to themselves while women reach out and network for information and support. What surprised Trevor were the statistics that went with that – women survive cancer diagnoses at a higher rate than men.

Now as he wrote, Trevor’s personal story turned to a new vision. Was there a way he could help men feel more comfortable talking about their cancer diagnoses? Could he form community across the US and the world to help men feel more connected, and possibly help them survive cancer? And the Wolf Pack, known as “Man Up to Cancer,” was born. Trevor connects through his website, manuptocancer.com, through his Facebook group, and through weekly podcasts.

His mission is straight forward: “Man Up to Cancer inspires men to connect and avoid isolation throughout our cancer journeys. We are changing what it means to “Man Up” in the face of cancer. To us, it means knowing we are smarter and stronger as a pack than we are as lone wolves.”

There are a couple of things that are incredible about Trevor’s story. First is that he has not only survived for years, but that he has thrived. The surviving is medical; the thriving is community. The second is that there wasn’t a support system targeted at male cancer fighters in the past; Trevor saw the need and took action even as he dealt with his own illness. Granted, with his journalism background, Trevor is uniquely qualified to have taken this from the bud of an idea to being a vital part of the greater cancer community. But we all have skills. And we all have set-backs. The key to building community is to find a common basis, a common need, and to draw others in in whatever way you can.

Trevor’s story is wildly inspiring. Yours can be too. What community is waiting for you to gather them together and make something new happen?

I am finding an building community in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria. They are making it easy :).

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I welcome your thoughts and ideas for future posts!

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