"Cancer patients share something that instantly creates an unspoken bond."
After a recent appointment at Roswell Park, I headed to the lobby for coffee – an addiction that developed during radiation – and I was suddenly awash with emotion, almost on the verge of tears. My brain was flooded with the enormity of my entire experience, starting of course with the brutal reality that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 36.
I sat in the lobby for a while listening to a guy playing an acoustic rock version of the theme song to Beauty and the Beast, and I watched so many people pass by whose lives were also touched by cancer. I recognized many of their faces from spending so much time inside these walls.
While I sat there trying to be as Zen as I could, I bumped into a fellow survivor I had met only once before. “Hi,” she said excitedly. “You look amazing!” (A little positivity always helps.) As we chatted, I expressed how emotional I was feeling. Not surprisingly, she just got it. We barely know each other, but we share something that instantly creates an unspoken bond. It’s the type of relationship I never could have understood before cancer. But now, I feel so intensely connected to this place, and to all of the people I have met on this so-called journey.
Without a doubt, my most palpable and positive effects from this adventure in cancerland are the connections I’ve made with people who are now my co-survivors. I’ve grown incredibly close to one of my mother’s cousins who is a 23-year survivor. It’s unfortunate and ironic that cancer would be the thing that would bring us together, but it has, and now she is one of the most important people in my life. Who else can make jokes about our respective mastectomies?! But also, who can better understand the anxiety and the challenges that befall us as we navigate life after breast cancer?
While I was waiting on my initial biopsy results, I opened up to a dear friend who is an Episcopal priest and a breast cancer survivor. I was lost in the bewilderment of not knowing what on earth might happen to me. On one of the darkest days of my life, she said something to me that I didn’t quite get at the time. “I will be there for you any time you need me, and if you are diagnosed with cancer, you will be there for someone else in the same position.”
Right she was.
More than a few people in my circle of friends and family have joined this unfortunate club in the last year, and I am always compelled to reach out and be there whenever they need me. It is so important to make connections – whether it’s just an encouraging smile to someone else in the lobby, or sharing chemo tips with a fellow patient in Cleveland via Instagram – every little bit helps.
I am the first to admit that “cancer talk” used to be something that went in one ear and out the other – probably because you never think it could or would happen to you. But here I am closing in on my 1-year anniversary since my diagnosis. I couldn't have done it without my family and friends and the incredible community of co-survivors I met on social media and through the various channels at Roswell Park.
Cancer has an insidious way of making you feel alone, and it’s insanely important for us to reach out to each other to show – and promise – that we are all in this together.