Just Be In The Room: Friends With Cancer

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Sometimes you just need to be present, whether that means being in the room or a phone call away.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Joe Bullock

In the last few years, I have gone from being a cancer patient to advocating for others in the cancer space. I’m learning that sometimes being in the room is all that matters. You are not always going to say the right words or be the most eloquent speaker. There are moments you just realize you are exactly where you are supposed to be as an advocate. After surviving cancer, I wasn’t exactly sure how I would remain in this space as a survivor, but I have learned just being in the room can be the greatest support to someone at the time.

Recently I went to the memorial service of a friend I had met a few years ago during his journey with cancer. He had called me one day to ask for my support and at the time I felt totally inadequate as an advocate. It had not been long since I myself had been lost with questions about treatment for my own cancer journey and looking for the same emotional support. His cancer was far more advanced than mine and I wasn't sure I would even be able to help him.

As we talked on the phone that day I just listened to him because that is exactly what he needed from me at the time. Sometimes friendship is more important than the disease itself. Many of the answers to his questions could be found within the conversation especially with someone like me that has some knowledge about the disease. Many times he already knew the answers himself, but he just needed someone to bounce those words off of to get clarity with the disease. I found that even though I might not be able to answer his question at the time I probably knew someone who could for him. I think that's the most important part of being an advocate and just being in the room. I wish many of my own friends would have listened to me rather than fearing the disease I had been dealing with at the time.

I had spoken to my friend in person a few weeks ago at an annual men’s cancer retreat that we had attended together for the last couple of years. He was pretty weak at the time because the treatments for his cancer had played havoc on his body. This was a man that at one point was known to be an all American athlete and he had coached his players till the very end. I remember him telling me at the retreat that he wasn’t going to let cancer steal the joy of helping others from his life or the people that loved him. He was known to have done that till his last days.

It was an honor to be at my friend’s memorial service that day. He wanted it to be a celebration of his life and from the words many shared about him that day it was a life well lived. You truly felt that as family, friends and former students spoke about the impact he had in their lives it was much less about the cancer that took him but the relationships that had endured beyond the disease. I sat there and listened much like I did during our first conversation on the phone that day. I was truly grateful just to be in the room.

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