The Gift of Friends

Perhaps the most difficult realization that cancer brings is that eventually you will find out who your friends are. I know this lesson comes from more things than cancer, but just the same, it does seem to be part of the process.

Truth be told, I had more friends before my mother’s diagnosis than I have now.

However, there is a great truth and that is, that perhaps these people weren’t really friends to begin with. Yes, there are many types of friends, but I’m talking about real friends, the kind of people who will go the distance with you and for you, no matter what. They will put me up with my venting about being exhausted and hold me when I cry. There is no judgment. There is only love and acceptance.

These people are the great blessing that cancer brings and I am truly blessed.

Just the same, there are those other people; the ones I thought were the aforementioned type of friends, who aren’t. They are a blessing too, because now more than ever, you need to know where you stand with people. You will need true, reliable friends. You don’t need those who will only remain on the fringes, afraid of becoming too involved or fail to recognize that not only the cancer patient, but also the caregiver needs care patience and understanding.

Most of these people will still be friends of some sort, but they will not be willing to go beyond the boundaries of their lives for you. When they see you, they may ask you how you are, offer you friendly hug and a few minutes of small talk, but don’t expect more from them than that. It’s nothing against them, and I have probably been just like this on many occasions, though I haven’t meant to be. It’s easy to get caught up in your own life, and your own problems, though I hate to think I’ve ever ignored someone in need. The truth is I probably have, because there is no way to be there for everyone who needs you.

We all have just so much strength, just so much time.

There have also been friends have proved to be toxic. Now more than ever, those types of people need to go. The last thing anyone dealing with cancer as either a patient or a caregiver is someone like that in their lives.

So just like my mother’s cancer was cut away, I had to do some surgery myself. It wasn’t an easy thing and it hurt, but it was a tough decision that I had to make. Ironically or perhaps not so ironically, these were people I had been there for through some trials in their lives. But that’s another lesson that comes on this journey.

I had two particularly toxic people in my life and the end of each of those friendships was not only damaging but also hurtful. One person I had asked to stop calling me at all hours of the night because my mother was about to undergo her first chemo and we both needed our rest, cursed me out because in asking them to stop I had hurt their feelings. I hadn’t been mean, but had simply asked them to please stop. I told them that I still wanted, needed their friendship, and their response was to ask me what I expected them to do, as if I somehow expected them to make everything better.

If only that were possible.

I wish these people well, as I wish everyone well. There is no room for bitterness or anger, because every aspect of me has been taken up with caring for my mother’s needs. I have been forced to put everything in perspective. Yet, even if mom wasn’t fighting cancer and I wasn’t fighting right beside her, I wouldn’t be bitter. It’s not my nature. I had a boyfriend who thought it was a flaw in my nature that I didn’t hold grudges or become bitter. I consider it a blessing.

The last group are people I have met since my mother’s diagnosis who have blessed me with their kindness and grace. I didn’t see these particular blessings coming, and didn’t expect them, which makes them all the more wonderful. There have been doctors, nurses and online friends. They have been there through the tough times and the tougher times.

Cancer has taught me how to be a better a friend, because I have learned from those around me just what that entails. What cancer brings is the realization that blessings come in many forms, and faces, and that I have much to live up to be just as good a friend as my friends have been to me.

6 Responses to The Gift of Friends

  1. Vanessa says:

    My husband also thinks of my inability to hold a grudge or become bitter as a character flaw. We’ve talked about it often, and I always come to the same conclusion: I am happy to set down the heavy baggage from yesterday so I can carry what I need to today. And people like you and I know it’s a quite the opposite of a weakness ;-).

    In the face of something so huge, your strength is so inspiring. In being open to blessings in unexpected places, you are a blessing to your friends. And to your mom ;-).

  2. Genie says:

    Rachel, I’m so sorry to hear about your mom’s illness, on top of your dad’s. But I’m so glad you’re writing your way as you both/all live into and through the cancer.

    My mother had ovarian cancer and we experienced much of what you write so powerfully and gracefully about. Then — and still — as full-time caregiver for my dad as he continues his journey into Alzheimer’s, the same holds true. Especially this entry. I too have written about just this reality of caregiving, that we soon find out who our true and best friends are, those who offer help and then make excuses not to follow through, those who disappear …

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful words at this time in your life. Like you, writing about it has helped me cope, helped me work through the difficulties and celebrate the graces and blessings. I hope it will continue to do so for you. You are much in my heart and prayers, my friend. Aho.

  3. hcpalmquist says:

    This is a beautiful and true post. I am so glad to see you hold your head high with grace and peace. It is important to turn away from bitterness as that is its very own cancer. *hugs* I’m always online for you to vent to.

  4. NL Gervasio says:

    You, my dear, remind me of my friend Deni in so many ways, and you share a similar experience. You know I’m awake all hours of the night for talking, venting, whatever you need. I only wish I were closer geographically to give you a real hug and a shoulder to cry on.

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Yup, and visa versa. We both have fibro after all. That’s something to vent about all by itself.

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