Cancer has given me a lot of things. A better view of my own priorities, perspective, night sweats and 9 new scars. These though often unwanted, were at least somewhat expected. There is one thing cancer has given me that was totally unexpected, new friends.
One thing I need to note- When you are diagnosed with breast cancer and begin your treatment, you instantly become a veteran. It is incredible how 1 month in, I was already mentoring (I am using this fluidly as certainly I wasn’t then, and am not now, an expert) other women who had been diagnosed after me. Six months into my treatment I was basically Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman to others who came after me.
Through writing the blog, I have had the pleasure of connecting with quite a few women and men from across the country. Some of these encounters are brief , but others have ended up digging deeper, forging friendships that I expect to remain far after our cancer is gone.
Most of these connections become meaningful acquaintances. The breast cancer community is vast, but it can also be quite miniscule. Once you are diagnosed, you start hearing of so-and-so’s friend who also has breast cancer. That person’s name comes up a second time, you eventually see their name on the private Facebook page you are a part of… These connections are everywhere.
I belong to a private Facebook group called the Young Survivor’s Coalition. I am not terribly active on the site, but I read every single post that pops up, and there are A LOT of them. The group has been an incredible resource for me. When I have a quick question that does not require a doctor’s opinion, I just post to the site and within minutes, handfuls of women are responding with their experience.
Just today I was following a thread about hair growing back after chemo. Women were posting photos of their hair at various intervals post-treatment. Some of us were aghast at how fast other women’s hair was growing and demanding to know their secrets. Other threads may have to do with a specific diagnosis. Women looking for other women who are going through similar things to whom they can ask peer to peer questions. Through this FB group, I have found a whole bunch of cancer buddies whose odysseys I follow more closely and we sometimes speak outside of the group. It is an absolute #blessing (I had to) to have found these incredible, strong new pals.
Early on in my diagnosis, I was introduced to a local woman my same age who was also recently diagnosed. Our cancers aren’t exactly the same, but whose are? We hit it off immediately and we text and meet up for ‘dates’ on a regular basis. We joke that as we sit at the booth eating our eggs, it is a toss up who looks more pathetic on any given day. I’ll give you a hint, it’s usually me as she actually gives AF and wears her wig. This woman has helped me tremendously, both as a mentor, peer and now, dear friend.
Through a string of coincidental connections, I met a woman living in a different part of the country who was just beginning her BC quest. The kicker (literal) in her case was that she was also pregnant. Now I am NOT a doctor, but I am a doula and childbirth educator who has seen quite a lot throughout my years of practice so I felt a special calling to her. I am so happy she stumbled upon me so that I could be on her support team. Though our friendship is still burgeoning, and we have never met, I can tell that she is a keeper. Sometimes we text on and off all day about cancer, but often it is just about life. We are working women, mothers, fighters and I am willing to bet, life-long friends.
Another new friend I have mentioned before in my blog is my 25 year old chemo sister/mermaid. At my second chemo, I went into the hall to use the bathroom and encountered a stunning young woman also hooked up to the pole (note: not ON the pole). We instantly started talking as we were the only people there who were not septuagenarians.
Turns out she is 25 and dealing with a diagnosis that will require significantly more treatment than I do. We became fast friends and I now feel real love for this young woman and her amazing family. We would purposely schedule our hydrations appointments together so we could hang out in the same room while IV fluid was leaking into our ports.
We bought each other the same ridiculous mermaid wigs and would wear them to the cancer center together. We text about our bizarre side-effects and commiserate. On my last day of chemo she surprised me with a handmade banner signed by all of the nurses and doctors as well as a gift bag.
Today was her last day of chemo. I knew I wanted to do something to honor the achievement, but as I am 0% crafty, I obsessed over what to do for weeks. I finally came up with the idea you see in the featured image. I wrote little notes and tied them to balloons filling up her chemo suite. It wasn’t grand, but I knew she would love it.
These are the things we do for one another. It is bigger than camaraderie, it is a molecular bond. I have highlighted a few friendships that go beyond casual, but trust me, if one of my Facebook private group friends contacts me in 20 years, I will remember her and my heart will swell at the news of her thriving.
If you or someone you know is going through breast cancer, I urge you to seek out connections. Having someone to bounce your feelings off of who is not your doctor, mother, partner, is extremely valuable. We owe it to ourselves to do this for one another. We are a team of fighters who are connected by a dotted-line that runs through our hearts.
Breast cancer has brought me truckloads of garbage, but the trade-off of wonderful friends I would have never met otherwise, is worth the night sweats ten-fold.