Lessons in Friendship During Cancer

Every person who crosses our paths has something to teach us. Here's what I learned from my kind, silent and bonus friends during cancer.

Getting a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing moment. Your body, mind, perspective, spirituality, quality of life, the amount of free time, work, finances, habits and relationships are all about to be shaken up. Change in any one of these categories is bound to bring discomfort to your existence, but all of them at once is beyond overwhelming. What keeps us from drowning in the sea of change is the people in our lives who come to the rescue: our friends and family.

If you’re a survivor reading this, I hope your experience was like mine. During treatment, I had droves of caring friends and family members who swooped in to bless my husband and me with meals; care packages; rides to appointments; and calls and messages to check in. Some of these angels were people I wasn’t even close to before cancer. Nothing is more touching than a person coming out of the woodwork to support you.

However, you might have also had the unfortunate experience of friends who dropped off the face of the Earth the moment cancer entered the picture. To these friends, I admit that it hurt when you didn't reach out with a message, phone call or visit when I was having a hard time. It still hurts. I get it though. Cancer is so awkward. I’ve come to realize talking about cancer can make people very uncomfortable. Before my diagnosis, and even sometimes now, I don’t know how to respond when someone tells me they have or had cancer. It’s shocking and can throw even the most quick-thinking, eloquent person off their game. However, I’ve also come to realize that the silence was not about me, but about their discomfort.

And then there are the unexpected, new, bonus friendships built because of cancer, mainly consisting of other survivors, caregivers and medical staff. It’s a rare and special occurrence to know someone for a short period of time and be able to understand what they’re going through and have deep discussions about what really matters in life.

Every person who crosses our paths has something to teach us. From the friends who showed up to offer support, I learned to be grateful for their compassion and giving for when they will inevitably need help (hopefully minus cancer). From the silent friends, I learned how to forgive and to not be silent when others need our support. And, from the bonus friends, I learned that there are unexpected, wonderful gifts of cancer.