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.