Today, two separate friends who have been nothing but awesome to me reached out to say they sometimes felt like they didn’t know what to say, and that they wanted to make sure I knew they cared and that they wanted to do-overs for anything they’d said that was rough around the edges. That was so heart-warming.
The first one, K, is a new friend who happens to also be a rockstar. No, literally, actually a rockstar, not like the kind where I call my friends rockstars because they are shiny and awesome, but a rockstar that sings songs and has albums and gets on a stage with bright lights. This new friend is lovely, I’m quite drawn to her energy and her presence in our shared academic research group. We don’t know each other well at all, but last night she gave me this great opportunity. She’s seen me in a variety of wigs, and I’m sure was wonder what on earth was happening with my constantly changing hair-dos. Yesterday, as we waited for a lecture to begin, she was like, “I figured it out! They’re wigs!” I nodded. “And what’s under those wigs?” I paused, thought for a moment, and then said “breast cancer.” That was a refreshing moment to be able to just say, clearly and honestly, what was going on. It’s kind of like, now I’m going to drop the c-bomb, so hold your horses, but sometimes its good to just ask clearly and simply about what’s going on the world. And she did, and I had an opportunity to answer, and it was like breathing a sigh of relief. It wasn’t hard, it just was.K even called this morning to check in- how warm and welcoming when we don’t even know each other well. She added her voice to yours, to the chorus of people caring. It was such an honest and caring act.
Questions are like little gifts, opening up all kinds of spaces in our worlds. Hers was one that was really a gift- it held a surprise, even if a crappy one. Lots of times people ask questions they already know the answer to. Like, I was swimming many weeks ago, and the lifeguard asked why I was swimming bald. He already anticipated the answer. that’s why he asked. He’d already prepared a totally ignorant soliloquy about how I could get more germs from a pool. I told him to do his job and chlorinate, and then I complained. Heatedly, heavily. His question was not a gift, it was his way of packaging up his own terror and justifying his own stupidity. He had already structured me as cancer-paitent, that’s why he asked at all. K’s question, though, was waiting to be opened. It was peering in and not being able to see. I hope we can all ask questions that hold a space for an answer not yet known like that, in moments of wonder, and then I hope we can take in the surprise inside, be it hissing snakes when we expected sweet candies or be it big words when we didn’t expect anything at all.
And then, this morning. L came with me to the last little bit of my second to last chemo. He’s lovely. He made me laugh and told me funny stories while we waited for the bag of poison to empty into my jugular vein via the port in my chest. And then we walked home in the rain, because that chemo makes me so hot, and it felt so good to be in the rain. L, too, wanted to talk about what happened when I first told him, which was so long ago I can now barely recall. He wanted to make sure I knew he was there. Which, honestly, I did, because he sends cute text messages once in a while and we have gone to coffee a few times. But the caring, the being able to say, I want to be more for you in the world than I was, and the sentiment that he expressed that he wanted me to know that, was just so kind. His is a warm presence, a funny one, an open one. I thought it was really special for him to offer up this question about how we responded when I first told him weeks and weeks ago, because we don’t normally think about what we’ve said to our friends and then talk about how we wish it were different in such a vulnerable way.
And then we came home, and cuddled kittens and drank tea lattes, and then I took a many hour nap. So crappy day of chemo, lovely day of people in the world modeling to me, how we can be reflexive feminists in our own friendships, and showing me we can be open and take care of each other even when we barely know each other, and sharing with me a rawness and carefulness that I totally admire.
I am grateful I have so many people around me to do these tiny little acts. To send me boxes with elephants and poster markers and cookbooks and cards and tea and jammies. To laugh and wipe tears and walk in the rain and listen openly and eat good food. You all show me how I want to be in the world. You make cancer-land full of your little gems of hope and magic.
I hope you know, each of you, that you mean so much to me. Some of you have never even known me without cancer, and some of you have known me for so many years this is a but a blip on our friendship timeline. Some of you I see everyday, some of you I haven’t talked to in years. Some of you know what to say, some of you are at a loss for words. I still know you are there. Friends, you inspire me. I hope you know how much you mean to me.
And maybe we’ll have to have a no-more-chemo party, soon.