You know the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child”? I think the same is true of dealing with a cancer diagnosis. It truly takes a village to handle something so life changing. I’m not just talking about the village that is your medical team, but also the village that is your friends and family. One of the biggest things I learned throughout my first year dealing with cancer was who my true friends were – it truly brings out the best and worst in people, and you may be left feeling surprised at who comes out to support you, and who fades into the background.
At first, I sometimes felt a little upset – people who I had thought would be right by my side didn’t always show up when I needed them. But what I learned was that people tend to enter your life for seasons. Sometimes those seasons are longer or shorter than others, and sometimes those seasons come back around when you least expect them. Instead of being resentful, I tried to recognize what that friendship had done for my life, and then move on.
But really what I found was the value in having variety in friendship. When I was first diagnosed, I was convinced that I didn’t need any support groups. I had great family, and incredible husband, and a bunch of friends nearby. Eventually, I realized that my friends and family were incredible, but I couldn’t expect them to fully understand everything I was going through, and I also couldn’t expect them to bear all my burdens 24/7. Over the past year, I’ve found support from childhood friends, high school friends, college friends, grad school friends, residency and fellowship friends, Breastie friends, ROW friends, and so much more. The best part is that each of these groups seems to offer something different, and none of them replaces another one. I’m hoping that describing what each of these people has done for me will encourage you to get out there and diversify your friend group and maybe reconnect with someone you hadn’t spoken to in awhile!
Childhood and high school friends – good for bringing back embarrassing photos and reminding you that HAVE actually had worse hair days than when you were bald. These were the people that had seen me at my best and worst throughout my formative years, and that I knew would still love me during my darkest days.
College friends – excellent for helping you relive the stupid stuff you did back when you thought you were invincible. They’ll spend time yelling at TVs with you during football/basketball games when you don’t have the energy to get off the couch. They’ll take you out for burgers before your mastectomy and remind you that though they may have scattered all over the country, they’re thinking of you.
Grad school friends – perfect for reminding you that you can do hard things. These are people that struggled through many a study session and finals week with you, and in the process became lifelong friends. Also good for reminding you that in the grand scheme of things you are smarter than you may give yourself credit for. They’ll keep you distracted with medical conversations that have nothing to do with your own diagnosis.
Residency and Fellowship friends – perfect for keeping you nerdy and minimizing chemo brain. These are the people that you know hold each other to a high standard in their careers, and that you can always count on to ask critical questions about your treatment plan and recovery. Bonus points for bringing your first post-chemo sushi to your hospital room after surgery, and making t-shirts to show support (#SaveManips).
Breastie friends – perfect for being totally relatable. Being diagnosed with breast cancer in your 20s is just frigging weird. Most support groups I initially found focused on women in middle-age, and most survivors that reached out to me when I was first diagnosed were from my parents generation. I appreciated all of that support, but it was hard to feel like we were on the same page. So many of these women already had grown children and had been married for years. I was only 6 months married and not even near ready to start trying for a family. I was skeptical when I first went to a Chicago Breastie event, but I met so many young women in the same shoes as me, and that was a massive breath of fresh air. These are the people that will share experiences with you, complain about being in menopause at the age of 28 with you, and let you compare boobs so you can make educated reconstruction decisions.
ROW friends – these are the women that will keep you accountable and remind you that you are still strong. When I joined Recovery On Water (ROW), I was really just hoping to spend some time on the water and stay active, but what I found was a group of women that took me in and proved that life goes on after cancer. Every time I look around the boathouse, I remember that each of these women has been through the same thing I went through, and come out with great strength on the other side. They inspire me to take care of myself and remind me that though cancer is now a PART of my identity (key concept here), so is being a competitive athlete.
On a given week, I might have a phone conversation with my high school bestie, a group text with college or grad school friends, a book club meet-up with middle school friends, rowing practice, and exchanges with Breasties on instagram. All of these friendships have helped me shape my new identity, one that has cancer as a part of it, but not as my whole being. They all facilitate growth and support in different ways, and I am forever thankful for all of them.
Where have you found support during your journey? Have you also found value in having friends in a variety of places?
Also – want to join or support my rowing team? Check out the website here!