Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Friend Affect

Ok so I worried people with that last post. I did not mean to. I'm good I swear, just verbalizing a little fear. It comes with the territory. I have another post about a dream I had, but I am debating whether or not I'm going to post it not. I don't want to worry anyone again. Remember chemo brain, it's a real thing. So I'm going to post this. I wrote it last night and this morning before I posted the Shoe one. It's just something else I've been thinking about and want to share. I'm doing so in the hopes that everyone takes it from a place of honesty, not a place of weakness or fear. Just the beauty of having people in your life who love you, and tribute to them for making this all easier. So without further ado...

The Friend Affect

For the sake of this post I'm going to use the word friends, but I mean it interchangeably with family. Friends and family are complicated and painfully inadequate words. We all have family who we have virtually no contact with but we share genetic info. And we all have friends who are quite simply, family. So I'm going with the word friends, even though many of whom I speak of are either genetically linked to me or my husband. I hope you are ok with that, the word "friend" has the highest meaning in my heart.

You may or may not be aware but each and every one of us has a mental file that is called the "Things you don't know you need until you need them". Mine has been filling up quite a bit of late. I'd like to share some of them. My hope is that most of you reading this will never learn this for yourself but I know a couple of you already have unfortunately.

One of those items is this. You need friends in your life to whom you can say "I'm afraid I'm going to die". But more than that, you need that friend to come back at you with "I understand." You don't need "Oh don't be silly", "don't be so negative", "please don't fell that way". And it would be a perfectly reasonable response from your friends, but to come back with "I know you are, I would be too" is what you need to hear back. You wouldn't think that but you do. You need that fear acknowledged, that it's real.

Now I knew before this happened that I was blessed with true and wonderful friends. But I didn't realize how many friends I have who fit the above description. That's an amazing thing. Feelings like this are strong, to put them in someone's direction feels very burdensome. To have your friends shoulder it for your sake is a very humbling, beautiful experience.

I'm also blessed that these same friends have a natural ability to balance the gravity of it and yet still figure out when I just need to shoot the breeze. Recognizing how I shouldn't be living and breathing all this every moment of everyday. To be snarky and funny and talk of non-cancer things. Friends like this find a way to quietly throw you a life raft and get it around your waist. Pulling you from drowning in the stress of it all and pull you out of yourself.

They take on different roles, cheerleader, therapist, drill sergeant, spiritual advisor, event coordinator, gossip columnist, researcher, teacher, etc... Friends who faced down the same enemy who let you know they did it, you can do it too. Friends who have the answers you need about chemo and hair loss and nausea. They each tap into the part of you they know best and bring it out of you, piece you back together, make you whole. Slowly arming you with the very things you need.

I choose not to name these people if that's ok. They know who they are and if they do not recognize themselves in this, I'm not doing a good enough job telling them I love them.

The other thing that is so overwhelming is the amount of people who just reach out to you. People I haven't seen in a decade or more, taking a moment to tell me they are thinking of me. What is so interesting is how many people who did reach out qualified it with some sort of apology. As though telling me they were sorry would add to my burden in some way. But the truth is the devastation of it all hit me like a tsunami. It was pretty complete. No amount of sympathetic expression could add to it. In fact it has the opposite effect.

When I would check facebook and see my inbox, or heard who called my parents and my in-laws. To get e-mails, cards, prayer cards, deliveries, etc... People from high school saying "hell, I know we haven't seen each other in 20 years but if you need a babysitter or a cup of coffee I'm there!" I can't adequately explain the effect that it has but I'll try. It's kinda like all of these hands coming together and taking a little piece of this and lifting it. And together it lifts just enough so that you no longer feel like you are crushing underneath it. Like a groundswell of, "If we just all put one hand in, maybe she can stand up under the weight of it".

And then there's the humor. I don't think I'm that funny or smart, but I do like to see the humor in life. Even when it's painful. The first joke I made was in the ER to the PA Adam who was going over the symptoms I had leading to my diagnosis. Now that we knew it was lung caner, everything needed to be re-evaluated. Among them was loss of appetite. "So you mean this new found self-control was just cancer? I guess I can return my copy of "I can make you thin"." Having friends see the humor and meet you with it back is just awesome. I mean come on, it's not like I just got hit with this. I spent 5 years looking for wrong cancer. In cancer cell comedy clubs, this is hilarious. And I get the joke.

Then there are the prayers. Some people ask me if I mind that they pray for me, some people ask me if I'm sick of hearing that people are praying for me. Are you joking? First of all just cause I'm a Pagan doesn't mean I dismiss other people's faith, I embrace it and fully respect it's power. Pray away, just cause Jesus isn't my god doesn't mean I don't want him in my corner. I've read about him, I'm down him. Not so sure he really looked that much like Andy Gibb, but I dig him. And to know that people are taking the time out of their day, turning their thoughts to me and asking their god to help me. It's overwhelming.

And then there are the things that are happening from people I just don't know. John's coworkers are raising funds, cooking meals, sending cards, flowers, shoveling snow. I've always believed people are good, but this is beyond anything I've ever known. This is the stuff of Oprah episodes.

And then of course there is my husband, parents and in-laws who have turned their lives upside down to care for me, that's of course the hardest part. They don't make thank you cards for that. It's just too much.

In the waiting room on Friday John asked me if all my anger and resentment, the kinds of things we all feel everyday, if it was gone. And the truth is it has and it hasn't. Cancer has made me a patient not a deeper and better person. On the one hand I spent the last two years complaining about being home with my daughter and missing working. How stupid do you think I feel right now? On the other hand, my husband's inability to sort mail is still rather irritating and the man has spent the better part of 4 weeks trying to save my life. You'd think I'd let it go. But he knows where the recycling bin is, I haven't hid it from him.

But there is one major effect that this has had on me. The know-it-all-ism. Man that shit got kicked right out of me. I spent the entire time in the ER just realizing I know nothing. Absolutely nothing. That hurts. It's affected me on a level that I think you can actually see with your eyes. It's deflating. It's made me quieter. I have a lot less to say. All I know is what I feel and what is that worth? They are just feelings, they are subjective, irrational and based on perceptions.

The only thing I know for sure is love. That is real.

P.S. For the record I have no ability to tell the difference between the words effect and affect, and this pre-dates chemo brain. So I'm sure I've used them incorrectly. And don't bother explaining the difference, I totally don't get it. One's a verb and one is a noun right? Yeah I so don't get it.


  1. oh, my dear. i've said it before and i'll say it again: you have such a strong spirit. your sense of humor was one of the things that first made me like you when we worked together. well, that, and our shared gift for talking and self deprecation. ;)
    this is your blog and you get to say whatever you want. don't self censor...just write as you have been, from a stream of consciousness. i laughed out loud at your comment about Andy Gibb and John's inability to sort the recycling.
    oh, and you're right: affect is a verb and effect is a noun. when you affect something, you produce an effect. See? you DO know a thing or two. ;)

  2. Wow, you've been truly blessed surrounded by so many wonderful, helpful friends in your life. I think we all can only hope to be so loved during our darkest time of need.

    And I never knew you wanted to come back to work. Why on EARTH would you ever want to do that? WHY???? :)

  3. I am one lucky gal!!!

    Lisa you are too kind to me!

  4. I'm with David on this one...why on EARTH would you wanna come back...I know why...you miss the archive project!


  5. Hey I loved it! Mostly the hanging out with everyone part. the tax part, not so much....

    P.S. hey Lisa I found the edward gorey Christmas card you gave me a few years ago, it was inside a book I found. I was like, hey! ;)

  6. First of all, let me say this...have you ever tried a behavior chart with John. Every time he puts that recycling in the trash...he could earn a sticker...it works wonders with my boys...do you think it could work for him...? LOL

    Second of all, you know more than you give yourself credit for...you may feel humbled and that is well...probably normal...can't say for sure, cause i have never been in your shoes...but your sense of spirit, love of life -family/friends..and appreciation for what you have...is nothing short of amazing!

    I will keep praying and keep reading - by I'm not pagan, and don't have the Jesus thing going on..hope the Jewish thing is ok too! lol

    Hope you keep writing and stay positive! :)

  7. You know I have a chart for sophia, I should add an entry for John!

    The gratitude and appreciation comes easy, people have been just so amazing!

    And hell yeah, I want everyone in my corner babe! And if you have Buddha or Vishnu's e-mail address I'll drop them a line as well!

    Love you!

  8. i just read this post...and you bought tears to my eyes! I am so happy that you have so many people in your court. We are all rooting for you! Between all of us we've got all the Gods and spiritualities covered, you are as good as GOLD!

  9. This is the post that made me decide to comment. Jaime, I've been reading your blog and I've laughed, I've cried and I'v definitely prayed and will continue to pray for STRENGTH for you and your family. And I'm with David...you REALLY thought about coming back??? LOL
    PS -- I'm still working on the difference between effect and affect!

  10. Tanisha!!!! How are you?!!! Yes I admit it, I missed y'all! I won't apologize for that, I didn't miss NY legislation however...

    Thank you babe!