Tuesday, October 27, 2009


When you're down and troubled
and you need a helping hand
and nothing whoa nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
and soon I will be there to brighten up even your darkest nights
You just call out my name
and you know wherever I am
I'll come running oh yeah baby to see you again
Winter, spring, summer, or fall
all you have to do is call
and I'll be there yeah
You've got a friend
“You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor

During hard times it becomes apparent which relationships in a person’s life are worthwhile and which ones are just a waste of time. Sometimes it may take something life-changing to truly start appreciating some friendships or start re-evaluating others. I have always been so lucky to be surrounded by people who love me, whether they are family or friends, and I have always appreciated the good relationships in my life. However, this experience with cancer still brought with it a few surprises and still taught me a few lessons. There were the good surprises of getting support from unexpected people; people who were merely acquaintances became close friends during this challenging period in my life. At the same time, there were people whom I thought of as dear friends who ended up disappointing me in a major way. I would like to say that it is ok because I had a big support system and I did not need them. Yet, the truth is, when you care about certain people, even when you don’t need them it still hurts when it turns out that the friendship meant more to you than to them. However, I cannot complain at all because thankfully those “friends” were very few and I was blessed to be showered with support from so many people around me. In fact, even though a big physical distance separated me from almost all my friends, the emotional distance between us was never an issue. They made me feel like they were always there, just a phone call, a text message, or an email away.

During the past year, my closest friends have stayed by my side. I could count on them to meet any of my needs. I came to realize and value the unique abilities of each one of them. There is the friend who never fails to make me laugh no matter how stressed or sad I may be. There is the friend who is always there patiently listening to me vent and complain about how horrible my life has become. There is the friend who oozes endless optimism and encouragement no matter how horrible the news or circumstances may be. There is the friend who sends little cards and presents in the mail all the time, making me feel so important, even though I know first-hand how hectic and busy her life is as a medical student. There is the friend who spends money that is not readily available to fly across the country to come visit me and spend a few days being physically there. I have friends who call all the time even when I continuously fail to answer my phone, leaving me messages telling me they just wanted to hear my voice. I have friends who text-message me almost every day when I am sick or in the hospital to ask how I am doing. I have friends who email/facebook/chat with me regularly because they do not want to burden me by calling. Yes, I am a person who is truly blessed to have experienced the meaning of rare genuine friendship to its fullest. In fact, I am so lucky as to be surrounded by not just one such friend but by many assortments of friends all of whom are thoughtful, caring, and wonderful in their own special ways.

My 25th birthday was only two months after my initial diagnosis with Lymphoma. I was in no mood to celebrate it, especially since I was in the middle of my chemotherapy and nowhere near any of my friends. Little did I know though that my sister, who also happens to be one of my best friends, was secretly planning all kinds of surprises for my birthday. She had contacted my closest friends asking them for their help in making my birthday “special”. The evening of my birthday consisted of eating pizza and a delicious ice-cream cake with my family. Then, I was overwhelmed when I discovered all the wonderful cards and presents my friends had sent that my sister had been hiding from me until that night. Among those, I received the most beautiful hand-made quilt in my favorite colors: pink and purple. Imprinted on it were pictures of me and my best friends with all of their names embroidered around the sides of it. It is seriously by far the best present I have ever received and the closest to my heart. Thanks to my fabulous friends, my 25th birthday turned out to be a very memorable one!

Because of such friends, I try not to think of the few people who failed me during this time in my life. Recently, I read an excellent book titled “Everything Changes: the insider’s guide to cancer in your 20s and 30s” by Kairol Rosenthal. Rosenthal says:

In seven years of living with cancer, I have begun to accept that some people simply do not respond to my experiences in a way that brings me comfort. I’m tired of making psychoanalytic assumptions about why they cannot handle my illness. Instead, when it comes to baring my soul about the crap that cancer is, I have learned through Sheila’s example to rely on the small handful of people in my life who really get me.

This is so true. I could beat myself up trying to think of reasons why certain people were not there for me at such a critical time in my life but what is the point? I am not lacking in support, and thoughts like these will not get me anywhere. Plus, I am facing the biggest battle of my life, and only those who are able to handle standing by me and supporting me are welcome in my world. It may sound selfish that I am not willing to try to understand why certain “friends” did not rise up and fulfill their friendship roles, but I need to think of me right now- I need to be selfish some in order to emotionally make it through this time.

Also, when I had first learned of my cancer diagnosis back in November 2008, I chose to only email a few close friends and share the news with them. A close friend of mine recently inquired about why I wanted to keep things quite for so long when so many people would have wanted to be there and show their support for me. I explained to her my position. I wanted her to understand that people deal with such life-changing news in different ways. It has almost been a year now since my diagnosis, and at this point, I am comfortable and strong enough to share the news with people. Cancer has unfortunately become part of my life-like an uninvited and unwelcomed guest. However, at the time, the news was all too fresh for me. I was distraught and trying to wrap my brain around all the changes taking place in my life. I only wanted support from people whom I knew truly cared about me, and were not just going to offer their support out of pity. I did not need nor want pity from anyone. What I did need were people I knew I could truly count on—to listen, to offer encouragement, and to believe in me even when I did not believe in myself. Personally, I did not want people to offer me their support or friendship just because I was really sick. One young adult cancer patient in Rosenthal’s “Everything Changes” book describes it best when she says:

With all the races, rallies, and walks people assume you want to be celebrated for having survived cancer. No! The last thing I want is people cheering me on because I had a disease that I didn’t want, was miserable getting through, and wish I never had. That should not be my moment of fame.

So, my reasons for keeping my Lymphoma diagnosis quite for so long were not to offend anyone. I just do not want to walk around “celebrating” cancer when it is the last thing on earth that deserves celebration, nor do I want to be remembered for this small chapter in my life. I am the same person now as I was before cancer-I have the same personality, the same outlook on life, and the same habits. There have been some minor changes and I have tweaked some areas in my life, but nothing significant enough that would make people want to be my friends any more or less than they did before the cancer invaded my existence!
A friend loves at all times,
And a brother is born for adversity
Proverbs 17:17