Sunday, January 19, 2014

The cancer divide in friendship: An elephant in the room

Generally speaking, I am a grateful person.  I try to look at the ways that my life is blessed, with my family, with friends, with opportunity.  Even with LFS, there are blessings.  Sure, there are the crappy genetics, the medical bills, and the absurd things we have done medically speaking, to generate such bills. But, I also have some incredible friends that LFS has brought into my life.  I look to that, when the rest becomes overwhelming.

Because my LFS friends understand what this is like.  They laugh at my inappropriate cancer jokes and make many more of their own.  Like the Hispanic tradition of the Day of the Dead, where they have a picnic in the cemetery, we try to laugh at cancer and the difficulty that it brings so that we can still be the focus, not the disease.

We live with this.  We are focused on living, trying to make a difference, each in our own way.  The ways are as varied as we are, individual and unique.  They are beautiful, these friendships.

Despite being grateful for bringing me some terrific friends, LFS and cancer really piss me off.  My friends have be plagued with cancer in the past.  But my friends have become very busy with cancer in the present, and aside from how crappy that is for them personally (that is the grossest of understatement, btw) it changes how we are.  Or, better stated, I have let it change how I am.

Over the past two years, I have had the misfortune of generally having the crappiest story in the room, pick any room and any group of people.  I am not saying this to 'woe is me,' but objectively speaking, this is probably true, aside from the LFS conference I attended in Boston.  So, socially, my focus has been on making people around me feel ok with our situation. I have become fairly adept at this, perhaps because I have become accustomed to our craziness, and I truly try to focus on the good we are afforded.

Over the past couple of months, my very first LFS friend has grappled with a far crappier situation, learning that her cancer has returned in a most unwelcomed way.  I suddenly discovered that I no longer had the toughest story in the room.  I have fears for Mallory.  I have felt helpless.  I have been paralyzed.  At times, my conversation has been stilted, cautious. My usual strategy, to roll out the social niceties, and smooth over the awkwardness, bridging over the elephant, was not applicable.  I didn't know what to say.  I foundered.

Do I share the everyday things, the silly events common to motherhood, the mundane aggravations?  Should I lay bare the worries that I have about my kids, which are only potential problems, in stark contrast to her actual problems?   What do I do with the joy that I have about my family living in a place of relative health?   It was hard fought, this little piece of medical quiet. There is some guilt, however irrational, for the joy.

These things seemed so unimportant, and unworthy by comparison to her challenges.   I had allowed cancer, the disease, to interfere with my friendship with a person.  I was dis-eased, uneasy, unsure of how to speak with my friend.  That really makes me mad.

I spoke a few weeks ago with another friend who has been amazingly supportive of me over the years and I shared this realization with her. I confessed to her that I didn't know what to say to my LFS friend.  I couldn't give Mallory what she needed most.  I couldn't make this better. I was inadequate to the task.  I was miserable, just thinking about it.

Monica, smiled kindly, most knowingly, because she has been where I am now.  She gently told me that I should just be who I am, and give generously of my heart, knowing that while I will stumble, and will likely say the wrong words, that a generous and loving heart will certainly come through.  She pointed out that she has been doing this for me, for years, this not knowing what to say.  I need to just be me, and be available, however I can. 

I pick smart friends for a reason.  I am compensating for my own stupidity.

This week I have had more LFS friends reveal that they are back on the cancer train...I am mad.  I am worried.  I grieve.  But, I will not allow cancer to come between us again, obstructing the connection we have.  I might lose my footing, suddenly finding myself on the other side of the cancer divide.  But I cannot let LFS score in this arena. Will. not.

So I will take the advice and the position of my local friends.  They have been courageous and revealing, pouring their love into me for years. I hope to be even half that sort of friend for my favorite mutants. My love and affection for them is boundless.

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