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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At a 50% failure rate, a meteorologist is the only profession in which one can keep their job being incorrect in about half of their prognoses. Or so the old joke goes. It’s not easy given climate change, a man-made shift in the earth’s ability to stabilize its temperature and its weather conditions. Pollutants and the release of chemicals into our environment likely also caused such a surge in the number of cancer cases to 1:2 in 2019.
Granted with the benefits of research in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, there’s an overall increase in survival, and in profits. Just as new industries form around global climate change so have they around cancer. In both cases there’s a lot of guess work and trial and error, or trial and success, if I’m to exude optimism.
The tumors in my body exist mostly in my skeletal system. My breasts are no longer the main problem but the culprit of the metastasis that someday can kill me. My once-beautiful bones, the bones that never broke, the teeth without cavities, the entire organ structure has kept me upright at 6′ 0″ without shoes for nearly 55 years. My bones now look something like sloppily cut Swiss cheese with rough hewn pieces of screen where they’re healing from mass murdering, distant traveling breast cancer.
Bone metastases [can] also increase the chance of a fracture in the areas of bone which are weakened by a tumor. When a fracture occurs in bones with metastatic cancer they are referred to as a pathologic fracture. Pathologic fractures may occur with very mild injuries. In addition to predisposing to fractures, bone metastases can make it difficult for fractured bones to heal.
The prognosis has improved for those with stage IV breast and prostate cancer with two forms of treatment. The current protocols include pharmacotherapy for sporadic, distant metastases and radiotherapy either by pill form or by laser targeting specific sites of pain or major concern.
Can you tell me where it hurts (on a 1-5 scale?)
It’s the pain that’s got me vexed. Realize with holy bones, always in the process of ravage or of healing, that’s only to be expected. They hurt in a way I can’t describe. I imagine it’s akin to having a broken bone but maybe worse. Having never experienced a bone fracture or break, the best parallel I have is my horrible growing pains as an adolescent. Standing 5′ 7″ by 13 years old I peaked after 10th grade at 5′ 11″ growing one more inch up to 6′ at 17.
Tall. You can definitely say I’m tall. I was always the “tall girl.”
I lost 1/4 of an inch since my stage IV diagnosis. With that 1/4″ went part of my physical identity. No longer can I truthfully say I’m 6′ tall, but I lie. I lie on my paperwork at the doctors office, and at the Department of Motor Vehicles. And I’ll lie when I renew my passport in a few weeks.
I’m a terrible liar. But I cannot give up anything more to cancer. It took and continues to rob me of so many things. Why should I allow it to take another part of my identity? What would you do? Would you call yourself 5′ 11 3/4″? It’s kind of a mouthful and it’s negligible. You’d probably not even notice if you knew me in the non-digital world.
It’s probably not going to make a difference to anyone but me.
Yet it’s my identity at stake even if it’s just a little bit of me. But bit by bit, if I allow it to, cancer can take over my entire life. It’s taken so much but it cannot take away my ability to “stand tall, shoulders back, head held high,” as my mom used to tell me when I was growing up.
I never wanted to be the “tall girl” then, but I would give anything to take away that peer-induced self-consciousness, causing me to slouch my shoulders forward to make myself seem smaller. But there is no hiding height.
Now I stand tall. My dignity is at risk now more than ever. I’m not at the school cafeteria-cum-dance hall, being passed over for a slow dance by a boy I had a crush on in 7th grade (where is John Fried, now?) who was 2″ shorter than me. The songs that I never danced to with a partner, but quietly sang with my girl friends on the sidelines waiting for ABBA or Patti LaBelle. I waited out Sail On” by the Commodores, “How Deep is Your Love,” by The Bee Gees, and my favorite, “Just the Way You Are,” by Billy Joel:
Don’t go changing to try and please me you never let me down before …
I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
Oh, what will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you…
I am that same old person somewhere in here…in a body changed by cancer. It’s kind of like the weather. It’s warmer now than it used to be, but it’s still the earth I always knew, where gravity hasn’t stopped holding my body to the ground although there’s a storm brewing somewhere no one can predict. Not my oncologist and certainly not the local meteorologist.