Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cancer and friendships

Cancer does amazing things with friendships, it create bonds and breaks bonds. Anyone with cancer can tell you how cancer destroys friendships.

But then, you get to make all sorts of nice new friendships with others going through the same. Someone I know blogged about this recently. I met a bunch of women in December 2007 when I was in the middle of chemo and looking my 'best' in my wig with that lovely chemo/holding back nausea pallor. But we were all the same boat as we were part of a cancer support group for newly diagnosed patients. Through the seven or eight week program (I have chemo brain and have no idea how long it lasted and if I asked the rest of them I am sure none would remember either because they all have chemo brain too) we all bonded and still meet monthly. Our age range probably spans more than 30 years. We come from different walks of life. We aren't even treated at the same hospital. But we stay in touch and support each other. These are friends for life.

I also met other women and men with cancer at other events since my diagnosis that I have gotten very close to. Some of them I have never met and only know online. My Facebook account is full of people who I have never met but know very well through cancer. I am active in several other online communities with more friends. Again, we support each other and stay in touch. Some of us actually meet a few times a year to reinforce online relationships.

Different versions of this have happened to me over the years, in person, on the phone, or by email.
"Hi, how are you? What have you been up to?", being cheerful and perky, the 'friend' calls.
"Oh, sorry to be out of touch but I have been dealing with some health issues but am better now." Smiling, now that speaking with old friend.
"Well, if you are feeling better, let's do lunch." also being cheerful and perky says the 'friend'.
"Well, now that I am through chemotherapy after my cancer diagnosis, I'd love to do lunch." Or in so many words.
"Oh, sorry, I just checked my calendar. Can I get back to you next month?", sounding distant and strained after sudden pause. And you never hear from them again.

Then there are the cancer friendship abusers. Who are these people? I don't know but their actions are also hurtful. These are the people who use their cancer to manipulate or use others. You know of some of them - the one's who fake cancer diagnoses to get sympathy or money. You hear about them on the news after they are arrested and looking at jail time.

But a bit closer to home are the people who use their cancer to manipulate friends. I met one woman online shortly after my cancer diagnosis. She actually lives very close. After emailing back and forth, we got to be friends and used to meet for coffee. Then one day she threw a big birthday party for herself (as the previous year she had been in treatment and missed it) and sent me an invite. Nothing unusual there but when I arrived at the party with my husband, she made a point of introducing me to other women with breast cancer. It turned out none of them really knew her that well but its like she invited a collection of women with breast cancer to her party to show off to her other friends that she was cool because she knew people with breast cancer. I felt like the geeks at the fraternity rush party in Animal House where they are stuck in the corner to be stared at and disdained. We left shortly after we arrived and I never heard from her since.

An online friend sent me a note about another woman in my neighborhood who was dealing with her cancer diagnosis and possible recurrence. We emailed, talked, met for coffee, talked about her surgery and ensuing follow up doctor appointments. As soon as she got a clean bill of health, I never heard from her again.

I don't think these people understand that they are not being friends but being users.

But today, I am going to see a woman from one of my support groups. We were in the same group weekly for two years and have also met for lunch (always Thai food), walks, etc. She has triple negative breast cancer. She was first diagnosed four years ago and had a recurrence two years ago. She is now on oxygen, at home, with visiting nurses and I think she said they have one last experimental chemo for her to try but there is not much hope and she is in constant pain. She is in her mid 40's with a six year old and a husband. I am going with another friend and bringing Thai food for lunch and will continue to go as long as she is up for visitors. This is also the downside of friends with cancer but it is part of being a friend.

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