Monday 14 April 2014

Ode to Friends

The topic of friendship has been popping up in many conversations I've had lately. Having a friend to lean on, talk to, laugh with, can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day. I'm not someone who has many friends but rather a few very close ones that represent the different phases of my life. Since being diagnosed with cancer never have those friendships meant more.

I met my first friend when I was three years old and there hasn't been a time in the last 46 years when she hasn't been my friend. Our lives headed in different directions and geography keeps us physically apart for years at a time but when we do see each other it's like time has stood still and we're still little girls who like to sing, giggle and be limited only by our imaginations. She reads this blog and is one of the first people to send her encouragement.

I have another friend I've known almost as long. There was a time in my teens when my life got a little off track. During this time I thought she was someone who no longer fit into the life I wanted to live. I was a coward and wrote her a letter telling her our friendship was over. She wrote me back and basically said she would not accept this 'unfriend' request. She knew what we had was valuable even when I was too stupid to see that for myself.  I'm so lucky she forgave me and for as long as I live I will never be able to express how grateful I am to her for that. She reads this blog each week with her daughter and together the two of them have become my greatest cheerleaders.

When I went away to college I met a large, diverse group of people. It was probably one of the most social times of my life and within that group there was one girl who became my closest college friend. We listened to Bob Dylan and spent endless nights talking about the politics of the world and how we, as young journalists, were going to change things. We also shopped and entered dance-a-thons. We posed for pictures together on graduation day and then lost touch. I didn't see or talk to her for over 25 years but thanks to a brave new world that includes facebook we re-connected a couple years ago. She reads and shares this blog weekly and has been an amazing supporter and advocate.

When I moved to Walkerton in the mid-80s and was on my own for the first time I became friends with two women who today are still my closest and best friends. I usually talk to one or both of them several times a week. One of them spent some time recently reading through old journals and she came across a poem she wrote for me in the early days of our friendship. It's clear from the start she had insight into my soul that explains why to this day there is nothing she doesn't know about me. When I was diagnosed the first time four years ago, after my family, these were the first two people I needed to tell. I sent them both a text asking them to come see me that night. They both responded within minutes saying they would be there. No questions asked. That's when I truly knew how important their friendship was to me. Of course, one came through the door thinking I was going to say I'd won the lottery and the other was more anxious, anticipating bad news. Their differences are what makes our friendship trio unique. They both read and share this blog weekly.

Amongst these friends I've mentioned is also a scattering of other women who are treasures to me. They round out my small circle of friends with their unconditional love, support and hugs. So, when I was diagnosed in early 2010 I believed I was set in the friendship department. I was too old to make new friends and frankly thought it would be too much work. I was 44 and felt I had all I needed. But with the diagnosis came a whole new set of feelings, fears and emotions. I had reluctantly been inducted into a new club that came with its own language and rules---one that none of my friends shared or truly understood. As supported and loved as I felt, I also felt very alone.

Then word got out that I was a new inductee to this club that unfortunately had a solid membership base in the area. I was invited to literally break bread with a group of women who had all been diagnosed with breast cancer. The term 'support group' is avoided because when we meet for supper the last Monday of every month there are times when the word cancer doesn't even come up. But make no mistake, support is the number one thing we provide to each other. It is a sorority none of us asked to join and instead of secret handshakes there are hugs, pats on the back, knowing glances and silent understanding, but above all else, laughter.

Within this group I was able to make my first new, close friend in almost 30 years. We were around the same age and had been diagnosed within a day of each other. Our treatment cycles were in sync so we talked weekly, if not daily at times. We shared our fears, our thoughts about the future, our complaints about side effects. When January 2011 rolled around we celebrated our one-year survivor mark together and in January 2012 we celebrated the two-year mark. Later that spring, as she was preparing to move into her dream house, life was really looking good for both of us. The back and leg pain she was experiencing was thought to be from too much work related to the move. Then it became worse and she could barely move. And there was that nagging cough that wouldn't go away. By July she was back in the hospital. The cancer had metastasized in her lungs and likely her bones. Throughout that summer we texted nightly, she usually from a hospital bed. She was scared. She had decisions to make that she didn't want to or know how to. For the first time in our cancer-linked friendship I couldn't relate to what she was going through. I felt guilty for my health and helpless in our friendship.

She passed away in September that year, two days before my son's wedding. The day of the outdoor wedding it poured and poured, but by the time the ceremony got underway, the sun had come out and just as they said "I do" a beautiful rainbow appeared. I'm often skeptical about 'signs' and the presence of life beyond death but I knew in that moment, in that rainbow, she was there.

Now, two years later, I can relate to what she was going through and I miss the ability to be able to see and talk with her and not feel so alone in this new stage of cancer. I've already lived longer than she did once her cancer returned and so I look at each of these extra days as blessings and a chance to spend time with the friends I still have here with me. I worried that I would feel like an outsider in my women's survivor club because now I had advanced to another rung on the membership ladder, an insider's club of which I was the sole member. I needn't have worried because they've embraced me and supported me as always.

My other friends help me by simply just being who they are. Some make me smile, some make me laugh out loud. Some know just what to say with their words and others know what to do to pull me out of a funk. They all hold a place in my heart that is intrinsic to my physical and mental well-being. I'm always trying to think of ways to express how thankful I am for each of them and how valuable their friendship is to me, but I'm constantly at a loss for how to do that. I hope this ode to friendship blog helps and I also hope that long after I'm gone I have the power to send them rainbows when they need them the most.

Until next time......carry on.


  1. Words of wisdom that are so true. Cindy, yet again another very insightful blog entry, thank you for sharing.


  2. Hi Cindy I too have experienced a great loss when my mom left us this past November. It was very sudden and our family did not even get the chance to process that she was sick. I do now fully understand exactly what you mean when you describe that persistent cough! We took her to emerge to get her checked for what we thought might have been pneumonia. Little did we know that we would only have 6 days left with her from that moment on. Since my moms passing I have found myself reading your blogs on a regular basis. I too don't know what I would do without the support of friends. Although I may be a stranger to you I wanted to let you know that your blogs are very helpful, insightful and inspirational. Thank you for taking the time to write them and share them. Please know that not only are you an inspiration to your friends you are also an inspiration to many strangers myself included. Thank you Cindy!

    1. I am so sorry to hear about the sudden loss of your mother. I imagine the shock and your grief make for some very difficult days and I'm glad to hear you have a supportive network of friends to help and bring you comfort. If this blog, in any small way, adds to that comfort then I am humbled. Thank you for sharing your story and for your kind words. I wish you continued peace and solace. Take care. Cindy

    2. I want you to know..I love you..and I will be looking for those rainbows. ♥♥♥♥♥