A mother describes how her daughter formed an unlikely friendship with one of her chemo nurses after her treatment ended.
My daughter Adrienne was a typical young woman in her mid-20s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was establishing her life after finally having found a great job and an equally great apartment that she could afford on her own.
She would go to the lake with friends and float in the water for hours on end. She attended movie premieres at 12:01 am on opening day and spent far too much money on fancy coffees. She participated in girls’ night out, where everyone dressed to the nines and headed downtown for an evening of laughter and gossip. She dreamed of travelling to faraway places but with paying student loans and rent, opted to go on regularly planned shorter road trips instead.
And then, cancer took her life down a very different path.
Adrienne tried very hard to reconnect with her pre-cancer friends after her breast cancer treatment finished, but cancer had changed her in ways that made it impossible to relate to them how she had before her diagnosis.
When you are faced with your own mortality at 27 and can be triggered by simple statements or actions taken by others, it can be healthier to make sure that the people in your life take your experience into consideration when they are interacting with you.
She doesn’t harbour any resentment towards her friends who don’t understand because she knows that they can’t. It’s one of those experiences that you have to go through to get it.
When Adrienne was undergoing chemotherapy, the team of nurses on the oncology ward were a group of exceptional humans, each of whom did all they could to make things easy on both of Adrienne and me. They included me like an almost equal partner when it came to everything that went on in that room, and considering how helpless I felt, I know that decision meant more to my mental well-being than I think they will ever know.
Many of the staff were mothers, like me, and their compassion for me during that five months was like a healing balm that I got to apply as I sat in the chair watching the toxic treatment flow into my child’s body.
Other nurses were Adrienne’s peers, and I can’t imagine what it must be like for them to have someone their own age sitting in the chemo chairs week after week. But they get it, because they have seen it, and one of those younger nurses is now my daughter’s best friend.
I don’t remember saying this, but I told Adrienne after a few weeks of chemo that I thought she and this nurse were going to become friends. They are a few weeks apart in age and their conversations were so normal when Adrienne was in the treatment chair, to the point that at times I felt like the mother who should maybe leave the room so they could carry on.
They kept in contact after the active phase finished, and as time went on, they began to spend more and more time together. There are no foot-in-mouth moments between them, not because they are consciously avoided but rather because they each instinctively know what is safe and what is not. They both understand that making plans needs to take into consideration the side effects that still plague Adrienne as a result of the aggressive treatment plan that kept her alive.
If Adrienne is having a rough day, things can change without warning and it’s understood by her friend. They laugh at cancer jokes together, something that makes other people squirm in their seats but very much helps when the darkness starts to creep in.
Although it can never achieve balance, this friendship tilts the scales ever-so-slightly into something good that came out of something horrendous. If it weren’t for Adrienne’s diagnosis, they likely never would have met. It’s a moment of serendipity. And when I am looking for some light, trying to shift my thinking away from despair, knowing that this relationship exists brings a smile to my face. Every single time.
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