After chemo and a metastatic cancer diagnosis, I found it tough to get through many books or movies or even tv series. My favorite genre has been nonfiction as I love to hear other people’s stories. They inspired me. They introduced me to another’s perspective and experience. I could more easily empathize with them after discovering their “journey.” Since cancer, I find myself a little frustrated with self-help books or books where people are struggling at their own doing or the everyday annoyances that send them reeling. I know I sound harsh. It’s not that I don’t care. I really do, but It’s hard not to think- c’mon get it together you’ve got excellent alternative choices. Don’t let great opportunities to live well and love genuinely pass through your fingers! Get help, if needed. Stop destroying the good life you have, or could have, by focusing on the annoying things that won’t generally last or matter.
Don’t waste these precious years of parenting- don’t you see that what you expose your kids to can outlast you?
Anyway, all that to say that if I finish a book it has got to really resonate with me. I just finished one that was healing to my heart. Living with stage IV cancer can be one of the most isolating places I’ve been to. It can change the way people see you. The way they treat you. What they communicate with you or about you. It is like navigating a minefield, emotionally. Recently, I have found myself in some ways tossed back to a ground zero emotionally. I am faced with deciding to make room for new friends after being insulated by a network of women who organically knew my story. They cried with me, prayed for me, sent cards, brought meals, hugged me, and consoled me. They were relatively comfortable with where I was because they had known me before and through my crisis season. Many had known me for a dozen years or more. And it’s not that I’m in great need- I’m pretty self-sufficient and low maintenance, but it’s still loss and change. And life is meant to be shared in safe community.
How do I begin to invite new friend groups to my life?
Do I seek out only those in cancer treatment? That’s a tough place as many who are diagnosed early get stressed out by Mets stories. I GET THAT.
Do I join another group? How long until we get to a point where if I don’t reveal this fact then it gets even more awkward. But how early is too early where they can still be scared away? It could feel tough to get involved with someone who may have an expiration date on their foreheads. What could that entail or cost to be their friend?
Oh, and there is this- I don’t do some of the typical things associated with social interaction these days. I go to bed early. I get run down easily some days. I cry or roll my eyes when almost every movie gives the mom or wife breast cancer, and it is portrayed in such a ridiculous fashion. And I don’t drink. I have had liver Mets. I’m protective over that organ. Minefields.
Even attending fun events can involve mines. For example: At a recent football game, a new acquaintance turns to me, as they are highlighting a hero whose died of breast cancer, and says: “I can’t believe anyone still dies of that- I thought it was cured by early detection!”
Deep breaths. “Well sometimes it’s an aggressive form and gets ahead of treatment “ she’s not buying it. I mentally note- I won’t likely share much more of myself here. I need to have this be a safe place. Guard up.
As fate would have it, I have stumbled upon a wise and confident voice in this wilderness area. Left Boob Gone Rogue, written by Uzma Yunus, MD. This author has been through much of the same experience I have with cancer, but she also speaks in a very comfortable voice. She has offered up her most vulnerable spaces partnered with the gentle discernment and care of a seasoned psychiatrist. I found myself smiling, crying and nodding in agreement at many points. I wanted to make my way slowly through her book and as I finished her book was left feeling like someone gets me! I contemplated providing my highlights of this book but honestly feel like it just needs to be read as a whole. If you have a friend or family member going through metastatic breast cancer (or any cancer, really) I highly recommend you read this book. If Uzma lived closer, I’d be inviting her to coffee but since she doesn’t, I need to take my renewed heart and try new engagement. I might be needed somewhere. Maybe this social “paring down” is allowing space for me to generously invest my story where it is needed desperately. I feel like I’ve armored up with this book. That’s where I will start.