When Life Gives You Cancer, Make New Friends
Finding others affected by cancer like you can be tough. Connecting with these people can be even tougher. But whether in the hospital, a support group or online, there is the potential for friendships that never would have existed without cancer, and that is what makes them so special.
Part of being diagnosed with cancer is receiving a social network you never wanted in the first place. Not sure what I mean? Let me explain. I was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago at the age of 32. Up until that point I had no friends that experienced what I was beginning to go through. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of awesome friends. Those friends were by my side every step of the way. But somehow, they weren’t quite...enough. Something was still missing.
None of my friends completely understood the fears that were brewing deep down inside me, the kind that keep you up at night. Questions like: would I live to see 33? What is chemo going to be like? How much will my bilateral mastectomy hurt? Will I ever recover and feel like me again?
After admitting to feeling lost amidst a group of willing supporters, my medical professionals referred me to some support groups. The rooms were filled with adults all struggling with breast cancer, they were on the same path that I was. I thought to myself, This is what you were looking for, right? But after a session or two I realized why I still felt distant-- these people could be my parents, my grandparents, my aunts. They weren’t my peers. They were strong, positive, and capable people, but I needed help from the 35 and under category.
Lucky for me, I found a group of survivors in my age bracket through Young Survival Coalition. I really wasn’t a support group kind of girl (before cancer, anyway), so I was terrified of going to my first group. I almost bailed and even dragged one of my friends to come sit with me just in case it was awkward and/or I was just awkward.
At the time I was recovering from my bilateral mastectomy and had practically just walked out of my first chemo treatment when I entered the room and saw these beautiful young women. I was stunned. These are all survivors of breast cancer? They look so...young. Wait, they look healthy!! OMG, I thought, these women have survived their cancer. If it wouldn’t have been completely weird, I would have kissed the ground they walked on and cried tears of joy. None of them had even opened their mouths yet to share their stories but I didn’t care, I just needed to see. I needed to visualize hope with my own eyes. And here it was, in a group of just ten young adult survivors.
As my treatment moved forward, I attended that group every month. I became friends with those girls on every level, from Facebook right down into my soul. We had a special connection that no one else could understand. Fast forward five years later, a move out of state, and I am still friends with many of them. How could I not be? They were there for me when I needed support the most! What I love most about our connection is each and every one of us is so different – different backgrounds, different beliefs, different lives – that I am not sure that outside of the cancer social network any of us would have found each other and have became friends.
Over the last few years, I have mixed feelings about the many women who have found our group since I joined. While I am sad that people are still getting cancer, I am also grateful they are finding the right kind of support. I have seen new cancer connections in our group start dating again, getting married, having babies, and adopting babies. I have also seen the tougher side. I’ve lost some friends and seen friends have a recurrence just to go through the horrible process again. It’s all part of that cancer social network and this crazy adventure called life.
We all know how much cancer can rob us of. It’s a laundry list. However, there are some things in my cancer journey I’d never give up, and they’re my cancer connections: those amazing friends I have made along the way, those friends that are here with me today. Those are the women that made it possible to fight. Without them, cancer could have added hope to the list of things it robbed me of, but they armed me with confidence, security, and unity. Even though it happened under less-than-desirable circumstances, I have to say I thank cancer for bringing our troop together. It was the best thing it could have done for me, and the worst thing it could have done for itself.
Did you have any trouble finding friends you could connect with during cancer? Share your stories in the comments below!
Dana Stewart is a 5-year breast cancer survivor, diagnosed at the age of 32. After going through a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction as well as chemotherapy, Dana knew that she wanted to help other young adults going through what she had. She is an Illinois State Leader for Young Survival Coalition and started her own organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society – Cancer Survivorship. She focuses on survivorship and helping survivors deal with life after treatment ends. You can connect with Dana on IHC under the username Dragonflyangel .