Relationships: Family, Friends and the Blessing of Strangers
Relationships can be hard enough to navigate without adding the stress of a cancer diagnosis. Presently, I can happily report at age 65, I have a great love for others and despite my diagnosis of MBC, I enjoy meeting new people, connecting with old friends and paying attention to those who just happen to cross my path. When you first embark on this journey, you must decide who to trust, and who has your best interests. Then there is the decision on how you want to be supported. Everyone with cancer is different. Everyone has different expectations for the support they need.
Sharing the diagnosis with my family
The first person I told on April 24, 2018, was my husband of 44 years. We had been expecting the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer (specifically it was estrogen positive, HER2 negative that had spread to my spine and ribs). My husband was reserved and assured me he was there for me. His quiet presence remains unwavering today. Then I shared the news with my two adult daughters (ages 34 and 36). Since I was previously diagnosed with breast cancer (DCIS/ductal carcinoma in situ) on November 9, 2000, my daughters had been down this road before and they get me. I think it is safe to say that my daughters would describe me as: “Mom is a fighter with a clear vision.”
My brother had been an integral part of some of my appointments. My next call was to share my diagnosis with him. We have a small family and besides an aging mother who suffers from Lewey Body Dementia, it is just the two of us. When I called him, his reaction was to go into immediate action to find the best doctor and treatment. His care and concern for me was something I will never forget but I needed time to research and learn what was best for me. Yes, what was best for me. This led to a series of conversations asking my brother to slow down and remember that this was my cancer experience and I had to do things my way and in my own time. Perhaps this interaction with concerned siblings and relatives resonates with you. Today, he has seen the results of creating my own path with MBC and has begun to trust the road I am on.
Sharing my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis with my circle of close friends
Onto my circle of friends, I decided to pick a handful of good friends to tell next. The people I picked did not have pity in their eyes but rather offered prayerful support and gave me the confidence to navigate the early days. Additionally, I asked these friends not to share my diagnosis with anyone as it was my story to tell. To this day, I do believe they have been faithful to my request and feel not everyone in my life has a need to know. I am so much more than my cancer.
My cheerleaders who provide support to me while living with MBC
Then there are those relationships that bring me comfort and people I consider my cheerleaders. The first person is a friend from the cancer support group I facilitated for 15 years. This wonderful friend, a retired doctor, who is currently fighting lung cancer, is a wealth of information and we talk often. I regard her as a “true light” to my path.
There is also a lifelong friend from high school who has also been by my side checking in weekly. She is a good listener without judging or offering unnecessary advice. Our relationship is one of deep belief. She believes in me and the path I am taking to deal with MBC.
The blessing of a stranger
I include this story because you must stay awake to all possibilities. I met a woman I now consider a kindred spirit at a restorative yoga class. I was in pain and trying restorative yoga for the first time. I could hardly move I was in so much pain. In an almost mystical way, she embraced my spirit welcoming me to the class and I was able to open up and tell this stranger my diagnosis without the fear of being judged and have formed a great friendship. This new friend is a great guide on my path. Can you imagine a stranger can become a kindred spirit?
Relationships while living with cancer can be daunting and stressful. I choose to fill my life with those who can light my path with positivity and hope. At the end of each day, I smile and am grateful for family, close and trusted friends and yes, the blessing of strangers.
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on November 5, 2019, Linda passed away. Linda’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.
Do you have an MBC mentor/mentee?