Excerpted from "Strength In Numbers," Stroke Connection Magazine March/April 2003
“My stroke support group saved my life,” says Candace Howerton of Valley Glen, Calif. “It’s that simple. The support group showed me that I had a purpose in life. I saw that I was helping myself by helping others.”
Candace is 59 years old now, and recently completed her master’s degree in social work, but after her stroke 10 years ago, things were considerably different. She had left the hospital in denial that she had been affected by the stroke, but after three months she found her way to a stroke-support group meeting.
“It was great talking to people about stroke, but everybody was so much older than me, we didn’t have much in common.” That’s when she started a group for younger survivors…and found her purpose.
“When I saw that I could help people, it motivated me to go back to school and get a degree in social work,” she says. “You have to understand, at the time, I couldn’t read!” But the group believed in me. Nobody ever asked me why I wanted to go back to school at 51, they just recommended that I go slowly. I eventually learned to read, but I was lost at first.”
Over and over we hear this message from survivors and caregivers. Stroke groups challenge people to get beyond their doctor-imposed, therapist-imposed, family-imposed, and self-imposed limitations.
Recent scientific studies are validating the importance of social support in stroke recovery. Social interaction and simply feeling connected to others helps ease the depression and isolation so common after stroke. “Going to a group is like going to a country where everyone speaks your language,” Candace says. “Stroke survivors know what it’s like. There’s an immense bond.”
“We trade skills,” Candace says. “We don’t tell people what to do, but we make suggestions and always tell them to check it out with their doctor.”
“Before the group, I felt so alone in my head, not even the older survivors knew how I felt,” Candace says. “When the younger survivors came together (we had people in their 20s and 30s up to their 70s) I realized a lot of them felt the same way – alone in their heads. When someone would share their feelings, a lot of people shook their heads in agreement.”
“Stroke survivors are connected by a common experience,” Candace says. “I work at a center with Russian immigrant stroke survivors. One of the ladies has had seven strokes. We went to the same hospital. She could only speak broken English, but I told her it was okay because my English is broken too. We laughed."
“I think all of us stroke survivors are in the same club.”