I read something recently that struck home and made me think. It compared cancer patient relationships to those of survivors of natural disasters or other community tragedies. In my experience, those are sometimes situations that bring out the best in humanity, the best in human nature. I was thinking about a terrible snow storm in my old neighborhood many years ago. Suddenly my neighbors all looked out for each other and checked on each other even though we didn’t know each other well. My car was stuck and as my wheels spun, several people suddenly came out of their houses and pushed my car free. We kind of developed an all-for-one and one-for-all attitude while the emergency existed. It was great. It made me believe in humanity and in the human spirit.
At first I didn’t want relationships with other cancer patients. I feared loss, and feared that relationships with other cancer patients would make me feel more vulnerable. If their cancer came back, maybe mine would too. If chemo didn’t help them, maybe it wouldn’t help me. Everyone said I had to think positive. I was afraid someone else’s bad news might have a negative affect on my positive attitude (in hindsight, I know we can’t always think positive and that’s okay).
I’ve never had a lot of patience with superficial relationships where conversation revolves around small talk. That’s okay at first, but I love conversations that go deeper, that have more substance. I value conversations where we are safe to feel vulnerable. I’ve found I have those kinds of conversations easily with others who have a cancer diagnosis. We don’t waste a lot of time on small talk, we cut right to the chase and talk about fear and faith and feelings and the epiphanies our diagnosis has brought into our awareness. I can talk to another cancer patient on the phone and we can easily talk for over an hour about things that really matter. We become close rapidly and understand each other easily. We probably spend 5 minutes talking about our marital status, houses, kids activities and our jobs. We move right past those vital statistics to what’s on our mind, what we care about, what we want from life, our fears, what brings us joy, how we view death. We are unitied in a profound and meaningful way. We share perspectives those who have never had cancer can’t understand. We all hate to waste time. We sometimes have the same warped sense of humor. We share the best of human nature as we weather our storms. We are in a sense related by circumstance; we become a sort of family.
I know now life is short. I have come to value being part of a community…and I have come to enjoy very much the privilege of being part of the community of cancer patients and survivors. There are people I never would have met had it not been for my cancer diagnosis. For that I am grateful.