(Copyright © 2013 The Big C and Me)
One of the reasons I love reading other cancer blogs is they remind me that I'm not alone in how I feel. I comment on these blogs when I can, sometimes just a few words, but sometimes my sentences turn into missives. And that's when I know I've touched an internal nerve, the one that says, You have to blog about this. That's what happened this morning. I was reading a new blog by Lisa Quintana, a Stage IV breast cancer blogger I discovered via the Facebook page of the ever-insightful Nancy's Point.
On January 1st, Lisa Quintana wrote a post entitled Being Invisible and Drawing In. "I remember when I was first diagnosed with stage IV cancer, people started pulling back," Lisa writes. "They figured I was just going to die anyway and they didn't want to be there when I did it. Too bad that was in 1998 and I'm still here. Their loss." (Did I mention she is funny too?)
I don't have Stage IV breast cancer, but I completely relate to Lisa's description of how it feels to become invisible among friends. As Lisa aptly states, "Sometimes when you are diagnosed, you don't have the energy to put into relationships; quite frankly, you are just trying to stay alive. Sometimes the side effects make it so you draw in."
Cancer changes our relationships, that's a cold, hard truth. While some of these relationships are strengthened by our dance with death, others are unfortunately, inevitably, irrevocably weakened.
As a cancer patient, no matter where you fall on the spectrum, you absolutely have to "draw in" your energies to focus on yourself, your treatment, your health. And therein lies the Catch-22. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so much energy to go around, so our time falls into snippets.
And those snippets, over time, get snipped down even further to make room on a social calendar now packed with things we never wanted to do: constant research about our medical condition so we can aptly advocate for ourselves; medical records to continually request (and keep organized); a variety of physicians and nurses and assistants who are now a weirdly comforting part of our lives; pills (and other treatments) that forever alter our bodies; exercises we incorporate to maintain our health and our ROM, the new foods we eat that don't contain hormones and pesticides (and new ways to cook said food), the new cleaning products and grooming aids we purchase free of BPAs and other chemicals; the new friendships with other cancer peeps we cultivate to keep our sanity (a necessity, IMHO), the blog we start as a way to process all these changes, the inner work we must do to compartmentalize our fears of recurrence and death... well, you get the picture.
Is it any wonder we are left with just a thimble full of time to devote to the rest of our lives not touched by cancer?
And exactly how do we do all this while trying to live less stressfully? We don't. We can't.
But it does help explain the changes in all of our relationships.
It still bites when a friend or family member no longer finds the time to keep up with us — even though we barely keep up with them. (Which came first... us being preoccupied, or them being afraid of our needing more than they are capable of giving?)
I've written before about the phenomenon and intricacies of "hiding" that happens post-surgery, as well as the "checkouts" that leave their mark on our psyches. The checkouts are the people who can’t deal with our cancer — or our vulnerability. They don’t know what to say to us. They don't know what to do for us. And so they chose the path of least resistance: They do nothing, mistakenly thinking no contact is good contact — or at least better than awkward contact.
Here's my take on the "fading away" of friendships post cancer:
- People are afraid of death and so they distance themselves. Sometimes this lasts a few days, sometimes a few months, and sometimes they fade right into oblivion.
- People misread our inability to give the same level of time and attention we gave when we were healthy. They may even misinterpret this to mean we no longer want them in our lives.
- People fade away — and sometimes that is a good thing. Recognize "fair-weather" friends. Untie the reins, loosen the grip, release the energy required to keep up those friendship. How else can we create space for the all-weather friends?
Have you experienced any of the emotions mentioned above? If so, please feel free to share your thoughts below. It's so important for us all to know we're not alone, no matter where on the "journey" we fall. :-)
EDITED TO ADD: Lisa Quintana — the woman who prompted my initial blog post about the fading of friendship — passed away from metastatic breast cancer one month after this blog post. You can read more about Lisa's life here. R.I.P. Lisa.