Metastatic Friendships: How to shift from isolation to integrative protocols

What is the goal of a friendship? Does a friendship even require a goal to exist or can it exist for the sake of itself? At times in our lives, there’s a need for companionship that goes beyond a need to not feel less alone in the world. I believe having spent the last five years in metastatic cancer land, that indeed cancer presents a number of emotional conundrums in all of our relationships —friendship, spousal, relational, or otherwise.

Some of us define friendship as simply the relationship of ones self to others in the world. But I think it’s deeper than that; souls become richer with the wisdom in listening to the hearts of the people,in our circles of interpersonal relationships. We can begin by asking questions,and truly listening to the responses. It’s there our abstract understanding of another becomes concrete – we strive to try to understand and acknowledge another person’s situation and help as we can even if that means to simply provide a sounding board.

It’s been said it takes about 100 hours of interaction to develop a true friendship. That sounds about right to me as I come to understand someome and their motivations, both positive and negative. I haven’t got the time for bold negativity for the sake of itself. And, pardon the metaphor, I cut negative people out of my life like cancer before they have the opportunity to metastasize.

Motivatious Operandi

To some, friendships are motivated by the rich medley in differing opinions, talents, cultural backgrounds, and now, health status. Without difference we would perceive the world as less colorful and fun, and more boringly shaded in black and white. An integral proportion of the richness and depth of a friendship is in the the care and love we give and receive. Friends form in the space created by our acts of kindness, both small and large. Relationships strengthen over the course of time, be it a month, a year, or a lifetime – act by act. Yet no matter the length of time we also should extend ourselves to value that which we can learn from others. Asking questions and listening can deliver far more interesting results for a deeper, emotionally enriching experience.

Some use friends to gain of selfish impetus. Unfortunately, a narcissist only relates to people as “sources” of, usually, material gain. Yet it’s during the harder times of our lives in which friendships can not only be invaluable but during which the real test results in seeing the strength of the heart of your relationships.

Mathematical Representations?

There’s an argument to be made for mathematical representation of emotions, as I read and researched others discourse on our emotional lives. A book written by Chip Conley showed how emotions and feelings are organized using mathematical terms. (Wikipedia)

Despair = Suffering – Meaning

Disappointment = Expectations – Reality

Regret = Disappointment + Responsibility

Jealousy = Mistrust-Self-Esteem

Envy = Pride+Vanity -Kindness

Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness

Calling = Pleasure/Pain

Workaholism = WhatAreYouRunningFrom?/WhatAreYouLivingFor?

Flow = Skill/Challenge

Curiosity = Wonder + Awe

Authenticity = Self-Awareness x Courage

Narcissism = (Self-Esteem)2 x Entitlement

Integrity = Authenticity x Invisibility x Reliability

Happiness = Love – Fear

Thriving = FrequencyofPositive/FrequencyofNegative

Faith = Belief/Intellect

Wisdom = √Experience

Can friendships become tarnished through the lens of cancer?

Do people remain in the life of a terminally ill friend as a form of obligation? Do some selfishly use a person whose disease can allow them to look like heroes? I’m certain there’s many hues that color our lenses in how we view our relationships before and after a cancer diagnosis. For me, many stopped cold as tougher times ahead became apparent. Some hung on for a while and slowly exited my life as two years turned to three, and now approaching five since my diagnosis.

Very few old friends stay in touch, but rather check on me through my blog and through social media. Funny thing is social media. The broadcast of health status, personal opinions, pet and kid pictures, etc. publicly relates a facade of our own design for anyone who chooses to look. We become objectifies of our own pretense through the gaze of others. I live in a global community of people with breast cancer and the sub community of people with metastatic breast cancer, which unfortunately seems to be growing by the day. It’s in this depersonalized world where I’ve found comfort and personally supportive relationships. It’s in communities of the likes of #cancertribe and #cancerfriends.

Social Integration

I’ve attempted to engage with friends as they announce their cancer diagnoses on Facebook. I think it’s a Facebook phenomenon actually. Approaching the, with my shoes tied securely on my friendly feet, it was not obligation that drove my actions but heartfelt care. Most of us have been brought up to act with the life-long philosophy that you behave towards others as you’d like to be treated if you were in a similar situation.

I swear I’ve reached out without any need for recompense nor any obligation to use my five years of navigating the healthcare, insurance, therapies, finance and all of the pillars that hold us up in this time of confusion, heartache, fear, and loneliness. Yet no one has grabbed my outstretched hand.

Risky Behavior

There’s lots of risk from the chances I take in reaching out out old friends. The pre-diagnosis friends. Yet I find engaging with people who know me as I am now is far easier for them since they had a choice to take a relationship from former acquaintance to current friendship. Kind of like habits that form over time, both good and bad. Being a friend to someone with cancer I’ll argue takes a special kind of empathy and a gift for knowing where and when to help and how to help so the illness isn’t the center of the relationship but in spite of it.

Most of my formerly good friends fell away like leaves on an oak in autumn. They turned red and fled the living assuming I’d be soon crossing the River Styx waving at them on the shore as they waved on their way down to the ground never to be seen again. It may seem melodramatic, but people I thought would truly be there just weren’t.

And people who now choose to get to know me I think I enjoy them equally if not more than the career focused women and men I intermingled with pre stage 4 diagnosis. I remember the last lunches with a few of them.

A Glimpse into the Unknown

This terminal illness can make ghosts out of even the strongest of us all, on either side of the diagnosis line. I’m sad to lose some and others it’s likely best I moved on or they decided it was too difficult to look mortality in the face when seeing mine.

But as I stated in the beginning, we enrich our lives in different perspectives. Understanding how to be a friend to someone to whom we knew prior to a diagnosis such as metastatic cancer can be rough. But the risk versus the reward is low.

Can anyone truly say how much we can learn about life from death? The mystery of not being is universal, therefore the closer we get to the line, the less fear we will have when crossing our own. So yes, the learning we can gain from befriending or deepening a friendship with someone who’s dying is not only invaluable to ourselves, but critical for the person who is on the precipice of knowing.

Poetry Friday @JBBC Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday
— Read on journeyingbeyondbreastcancer.com/2020/02/07/poetry-friday-169/

I write poetry when the my heart calls to me and as a job of sorts, I must write to practice the craft. Draft after draft. (Crumlples up paper, throws and misses basket, starts again…) I write haikus in #haikuwars with @thankscancer and their followers. I write poetry and share it publicly and it feels like I am tying myself to railroad tracks, waiting for the locomotive to come tear me from myself since it’s so vulnerable to put any kind of art out into the public eye. Will you find it cheesy? Ridiculous? Should I just smash the keyboard? Like any artist wants praise they’re also scared to death of the critical eye. Not when something comes from the heart, however. When the words flow regardless of what anyone might think because we know it’s just right.

Having written a poem recently as an ode of sorts, as a thank you note for her work on behalf of the writers in the breast cancer blogosphere. No matter how busy her week was, no matter what else she must have going on in her life, Marie Ennis-O’Connor @jbbc rolls up global breast cancer blog posts each Sunday night. Mind you this no small task, reading all those blog posts and quoting some, giving an educated summary of others, she’s a loud voice for the breast cancer community all week long, attaching social media to the voice of the patient, and patiently waiting for the medical and oncology communities to catch up with her.

Marie tweets her Weekly Round-up driving readership to our blogs. And we read one another’s posts and promote them as time that week permits. All of them different, some taking on similar topics in a different voice. Introducing new bloggers, though that means someone else has been diagnosed with breast cancer. A sad reason, to be sure, but to soften the blow just ever so slightly because of the support we receive. That’s also been another beautiful bonus as a result of her work – the support from women and men around the world who are just a click away on the other side of the screen. Day and night – when we need a shoulder, an ear, or just someone to nod and click that ❤️ button of understanding even if they’re unable to respond at greater length.

We are a community of people who have the fortune of knowing one another through a very unfortunate heath situation. Breast cancer strikes 1:8, of which 40% will be diagnosed with secondary cancer. I probably sound like a broken record (showing my age here – raise your hand if you have ever owned an LP record or a 45 record). I’m sure you can all spit that statistic out like a bad taste from your mouths but we must raise awareness as to the seriousness of our conditions not just to one another but to those newly diagnosed, their caregivers, friends, families, and those who have left us isolated and sometimes alone to suffer on silently.

Not one is better than another – we are but a relatively small group of those who understand what the other is going through. Sometimes someone is lost to us – they die of metastatic breast cancer and we all grieve. Sometimes someone gets a No Evidence of Disease (NED) bill of better health and we all cheer. Although there’s a sadness that some of us admittedly feel when we aren’t’ close to NED and having health difficulties beyond the imagination of the “well” world we once belonged to and for that, we’re even grateful.

The blogs that Marie rounds up are many. I try hard to get my post in on Saturday night before I hit the sack to make sure she’s had a chance to read it. I feel like I’m failing myself if I do not produce one blog post a week. And read all of the posts of my friends, supporters and Marie’s round-up. Ironically, Round-up is a cancer causing weed killer that was ubiquitously used in the United States through the ’00s. It may have even caused some of our own cancers to appear. Mine unfortunately is a combination of high doses of stress over a short period of time, #densebreasts (read more on this topic from my friend @beingdense) that don’t allow mammography to separate the cancer from the tissue. It’s all one cloud of smoke in there. There’s better ways to see what’s up. I was not given the opportunity to have an MRI or Ultrasound or CT Scan because I was not told of my breast density. I’d have insisted I should think prior to having being diagnosed at stage four. De Novo – it should be De No Va – like the Nova an automobile with a most unfortunate name in Spanish – “no va” translates loosely to “won’t go.”

I won’t go gentle into that good night, either. I’ll write against the dying of the light until I can write no more. And I know sure as I sit in my bath of Epsom salts, apple cider vinegar and baking soda with a splash of frankincense for my neuropathy (try it it works!) with my iPad and new keyboard thanks to my honey who doesn’t show a lot of emotions over my cancer but presented me with this keyboard making my writing so much faster and easier for me to do. As sure as all that, I know that Marie will craft a post on Sunday in the UK – the usual and unusual suspects week after week. And that’s what the butterfly effect really means. One small move of the keyboard, one single word can change history forever. And I know we all have a goal in mind as we embark weekly or not as regularly or more regularly like @nancyspoint and Jo Taylor @abcdiagnosis.

There’s a few too many of us. But like butterflies we all change one another’s world just a little bit, as our wings gloriously fly for as long as they hold out. And I hope that’s a really long time.

Crossing Lines: writing eases the loneliness of disease

It’s time to take it up a notch here on the Cancerbus. I’m now four solid years into blogging and my fifth cancerversary since my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis in March, 2015. Naturally for my personality in order to write this blog with more rigor, I’ve turned to educating myself.

One educational direction is through other people’s personal essays. I’m also reading up on how to touch more people through engaging with the cancer and poetry community. As a result, I’m commenting more often other blogs I read. It’s a risk to be certain, and as such, I step on my proverbial tongue at times.

When I write up a post, my somewhat warped sense of humor percolates up, and any self importance sinks down in the word stream. It’s the part of the art, the crafting of the essay about a weighty topic as cancer is, to create a tone that’s conversational feels right to me. The tone of my blog probably appeals to some and not to others because of the no-bullshit, non-pinkified, lack of “let’s all sing Kumbaya .”

It’s authentic and it’s my story without flowery effluvium, little self pity, and I hope no need for sympathy. Words either flow or they don’t. Blogging isn’t easy. Responsible for my truth, it’s also not for the purpose of emotionally abusing my readers. If it’s purple and persimmon pretty sunsets you want, you arrived at the wrong web address.

Perhaps too late and impervious to the needs of other bloggers I’ve committed a faux pas or two by commenting much in my same voice. To write otherwise would feel disingenuous. The endangered species of the personal narrative co-exists awash a sea of me-too.

Comments bubble up from the dark waters of “atta girl” and “you got this” and “how beautiful (sad, unfortunate, wonderful) your situation.” The depth of commentary reveals the time a reader takes to try and comprehend even my more lachrymose posts without turning away. My goal never included becoming the most popular or beloved. Instead my decision seemed right to me: to cobble together the rough stones down in a path to the truth of grief, death, side effects, the pain and it’s remedies, loss of love, family and friends, arising from a disease and it’s discontents.

Sometimes it’s a very difficult path to lay. Even the photos can become hard to look at but harder to turn from looking away as in my post: Bone Deep: the painful reality of metastatic cancer.

Context for content(ment)

Recently after commenting on that post, of which no background for what despair this person had come to at the end of their treatment options. I felt near obligation given the missing history of the persons metastatic cancer and what treatments they’d previously endured. My heart sank as I felt them giving up hope. I could only empathize with the information written with no kind of link to a previous post of their journey. Generally I shy away from using the word “journey” in relation to MBC, the word most used by kinder, gentler blog writers.

My contextualization of metastatic disease co-mingles help in two ways:

  1. Plain, black and white discussions of all the experiences from the ugliest fleur du mal to the most heart felt and touching so there can be a personal connection between us – you and I, subject and object, reader and writer. Whether or not the reader had or has cancer should not matter, since it’s the experience of the human condition in which I strive to participate not only of terminal illness.

  2. Easing the loneliness among my sisters and brothers with metastatic cancer has always been the goal of starting the cancerbus.com. It may not help all readers. However given some of your encouraging commentary, your words fuel my desire to continue week after week.

Alone or lonely?

There’s a peace in solitude yet an anguish in loneliness. I suppose the imposition of solitude with cancer feels the loneliest of all. At that very moment you need all the support you can find, you find yourself isolated even in large crowds. No one can understand whose life is without disease. Dis-ease. Taken apart the word disease explains exactly what causes our loneliness. It’s not being at ease in our own bodies turned against the souls who resided within.

This is why I write, to ease the loneliness of metastatic cancer. To find kindred spirits out in the ether. And so that said, if I happen to meet you through your words probably written for much the same reason, please take my comments as they’re meant. A way to reach you in your writer’s space from one mind to another and sketch you a hug in the way that I’m lucky enough to find comes easy to me.

I’ll write you a love song to celebrate our lives, together yet apart. We have more than disease in common. We love life and want to hang on as long as possible, with those like ourselves who have death beating down our doors. Perhaps with more strength of numbers it can’t get through quite as fast, since loneliness creates a weaker immunity and allows our disease to win over our minds and not just our bodies.