In September 2021, I attended St. Peregrine’s Cancer Support Group at my church. At the time, I was in remission from stage 3B lung cancer. Several months earlier, I had completed my treatment – two surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy.
Now, two years later, I have three new friends (as well as many acquaintances within the cancer survivor community). All were diagnosed with advanced cancers; all continue with treatment.
Debbie was the first of those companions to become a friend. She took an interest in my telemarketing call regarding St. Peregrine’s group, which I had made from a list of ten to twelve possibly interested cancer survivors. She was my only recruiting success and by the time I learned that she had colon cancer, we were already developing a connection.
Shortly after Christmas, the following year, I heard from my aunt that her son/my first cousin, Larry, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I had last seen Larry possibly twenty-five years earlier. Would he even know who I was?
Emily is also my first cousin; Larry is on my mother’s side of the family; Emily is on my dad’s. Last spring, I received a group email from Emily’s sister-in-law, letting family members know that she was very ill and likely was suffering from esophageal cancer. Although I had seen Emily at a large family gathering when I was in my thirties, I had no adult relationship with her.
My most prevailing memory of my cousin, Emily, was eating delicious Thanksgiving dinners with our respective siblings, parents and mutual grandparents when we were children. However, when I got the news about her last spring, she had been admitted to the hospital near her home in a rural area outside of Richmond, Virginia. She was not able to eat or drink. Tests revealed her cancer of the esophagus.
However, Emily has done well with her combined radiation and chemo treatment and is now back at work. She is able to eat soft foods and drink anything. My newly reacquainted cousin and I text and talk and are getting to know each other better and better.
Debbie is my role model of faith, for really good reasons. She listens to Christian contemporary music and is known for singing along at the top of her lungs in her new car named Candy. Rarely, if ever, does Debbie complain and that’s not surprising, since she totally trusts that everything works together for good to those who love God. She doesn’t dread a treatment; she doesn’t fret over CT scans. Her friendship became a treasure to me.
Larry has worked incredibly hard to win his gold medal by overcoming the much-dreaded pancreatic cancer. He continued to lift weights and ride his bike throughout most of his intense chemo treatment. He completed his first chemotherapy regimen, then did very well with the complex surgery which followed.
I’ve let him know from the beginning how much I want to support him throughout his cancer journey. With his excellent doctor and personal self-care, we’re more relaxed in our text and email conversations now. Among other topics, we’ve talked a lot about this years National Football League season. He is preparing to begin his second chemo, this one promised to be less challenging than the first and I am eagerly anticipating his return to Pennsylvania, in the spring of 2024 and my chance to become re-familiarized with him.
I have worried about each of these special friends on occasion, when their treatment was harsh, where surgery was intense. At one point, I became fearful that I would lose all contact with Debbie, if she got too ill.
However, by taking a few deep breaths after those fears arose, I was able to recognize that my worries were unlikely to materialize. They had no bearing on my connection with Debbie, Larry and Emily.
Cancer patients spend many days, weeks, months and years dealing with physical, mental and emotional challenges. Cancer patients need love and support. Be there for us. Be our friends.
When I returned to St. Peregrine’s group, once I was in remission, I hoped to be a role model to patients in treatment. I learned I was inaccurate: I received as much as I gave; I learned as much as I taught. Friendship is friendship. We are there for each other.
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