April 22, 2023

Cancer and Friendship


As young adult cancer survivors we big time need to kvetch about our friends who say stupid things to us (like: “In a way you are lucky you have cancer because now you don’t have to worry about whether you will getting it.”) But do we also spend enough time praising and gushing about our friends who totally understand us?

On Monday, Tara Parker-Pope referred to an article from the Journal of Clinical Oncology March 2006, which studied 3,000 nurses with breast cancer and showed: “Women without close relatives, friends, or living children had elevated risks of breast cancer mortality compared with those with the most social ties…. Neither participation in religious or community activities nor having a confidant was related to outcomes.”

When I was diagnosed, I sat on my bed and told my friend Nicole.  She shed all pretense and sat and cried with me.  It was the best response to my cancer I ever had.

During my treatment, Rachel, a casual acquaintance, adamantly wanted to help me with my mounting housework. A busy woman, she multitasked and on a first date brought the guy with her to my apartment to wash dishes. She threw a dishtowel at him and told him to dry.  They were not together long,  but she and are now close friends.

My friend Heather is amazing. Once when I was having a weird cancer period, she let me show her my used pad so we could talk about the color of the blood. Friends don’t get better than that.

Lifting loads of laundry to keep our staples intact, scrutinizing doctors for us, letting us cry into the phone so we can sleep better at night and fight our fatigue. This is what good friends do. I don’t know if in every instance friends help reduce our mortality rate, but the good ones sure as hell can improve our quality of life.

What great things have your friends done for you during an illness? Who has made you feel less lonely, more loved? (Do I sound like Delilah yet?) Who is by your side when your health is grizzly and you are freaking out? Has your support ever come from unlikely friends, or people who you weren’t that close to before cancer?

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  1. Garnet Says:
    April 22nd, 2009 at 1:57 PM

    You are so incredibly right on the spot with this observation.
    I have an enormous support system full of friends and adopted family. Everyone handles it differently, too. Some people can “handle it.” Other people have been through it and can relate on a deeper level. Some of them care deeply but are secretly thankful they live thousands of miles away. And even still there are others who worry and empathize but can’t come near me for some irrational fear that they might catch it.

    The friends and the family who are close and say the right things and hug the right way, bring the right food and send the nicest cards…they are the people who will see me through this nasty dis-ease. I’m not really sure what’s the right way to thank them, to show my appreciation. With a card or I buy them lunch or just say thank you a million times or write a blog post about them? I think the ones who are truly there in everywhichway, simply don’t need a thank you to know I appreciate them. Because that’s just what friends and family are for. Right? (I’m still learning this “healthy family dynamic” thing!)

    Great post. It’s got me thinking and very poignant to something difficult I’m dealing with at the moment. This helps. Thanks!

  2. Lori Says:
    April 22nd, 2009 at 3:04 PM

    Kairol, thanks for this. I often feel torn between sharing horror stories and success stories. Best to make a “sandwich” of good and bad - start with a healthy slice of bread, add a hunk of bad bologna, and top with another slice of rich whole wheat bread.

    In the appendix of my book I include a list of fabulous things people said and did for friends with cancer (I include some on my website - http://lorihope.com/?page=wantYouToKnow ) - but sometimes I think we have to share the crappy, hurtful things people inadvertently and unintentionally say and do to get the point across.

    I like Garnet’s question. How do you say thank you to those who helped you so much? Sometimes the best way is by giving something back or paying it forward. One of the most beautiful and touching things my friend, Roxanne, said to me after receiving so much love and support from her friends was, “When I get well, I’m going to make a point of helping others with cancer.”

    That’s how we roll.

    Again, thank you for an important and powerful post!
    With love and always hope,

  3. Jon Says:
    April 23rd, 2009 at 8:06 PM

    The first person i called was my bio-mom and she did not really seem that supportive. All i got was well they have made lots of strides since your dad had cancer. The next person i went to see was my mother in law who is the only real mother i have ever known. When I went to her job as a dialysis nurse, she came to the waiting room and I spit it out. “They said it was cancer” and I started to cry and she just held me as I cried my eyes out like a mom should. During my time she has really stood by me and been the mom I never had. The last time was before my surgery I had a biopsy and I had a reaction to the pain medicine and had a migraine that heard so bad, I laid there for 45 minutes and I cried, and she just held my head while I cried and kept comforting me. My mom also stood by me during surgery, she took a week off and was there with my wife and my aunt and uncle and they all made sure that someone was around my side 24 seven. She sent me an e-mail to my work address while I was in surgery telling me how much she loves me. My surgery was in aug-08, I still have that e-mail. I love my mom very much she is everything a guy could ask for in a mom……

  4. Christine Says:
    April 23rd, 2009 at 8:46 PM

    When I was diagnosed, I was living in a house with six other girls. It sounds crazy, but we all get along really well. (It’s also a really big house!) They were some of the first people to come visit me in the hospital after I found out what was happening. I also live on the other side of the country from my parents, so my housemates really turned into family for me through treatment. When my parents got into town, they helped them out as much as they could. Some of them even spent the night with me in the hospital during some of the times I was sickest and didn’t want to be alone. I moved in with an aunt who happens to live in the same city as I do while going through treatment, and my housemates continued to check in and visit me at my aunt’s and during hospital stays. They even took me to appointments when they could, even though they’re all pretty busy with school and/or work. I have got some amazing friends. I’m close to being done with treatment and I’m moving back in with them next week and I’m really looking forward to it. I agree with Garnet, I have no idea how I could ever say thank you enough to them for sticking with me through the tough times and taking care of not just me, but my family, when we were all struggling with my diagnosis.

  5. Alli Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 7:07 AM

    I have a great group of friends from church and one friend from college that are with me every step of the way, even the really bad times. I am also had the opportunity to become really great friends that I only knew perthirally before my diagnosis. Somehow we bonded over my diagnosis. They come over to do things around the house or just sit with me and talk about non cancer stuff. I have also met several people that have had cancer and I can relate to them in ways that I can’t with others. I have been very blessed to have met such good people that are there for me. I still have my lonely tims and some good friends have pulled back from me, but I am amazed the number of people that have come through for me.

  6. Luke Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 9:56 PM

    I had a friend drive me to my initial biopsy because they had to put me under to excise the supraclavicular node. I lied and told her I was just getting wisdom teeth pulled up until the moment I told her to pull into the local hospital. I asked her not to tell anyone else cause I guess I didn’t want anyone else’s sympathy or something. Her roomates found out cause she came back and was crying waiting for the hospital to call to pick me up after I came to and was stable. She took the time to clean the surgical prep off my neck and chest so it wouldn’t obvious I had been to the hospital. I don’t think I ever specifically thanked her. It was a lot to put on someone. Guess I’ll Google and see if I can find her to thank her.

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