In the Company of Women
Before cancer, I was one of those women that mostly had male friends. Sure, I had female friends too: some that I have known a long time and feel very close to, but for general companionship, loyalty and conversation that was straight from the hip, it was my male friends that I turned to most.
If I recall correctly, my mother had mostly male friends once she was divorced from my dad. Although she never said so, I can tell that she felt that other women were nothing but competition for boyfriends, jobs, other women friends and anything else you can list. To help keep this fear alive, she would reinforce it by having hit and run friendships with women. In that I mean she would meet a woman and become instantly friendly with her, then quickly move on to a best friends relationship which would then abruptly change with a brutal surprise attack of verbal accusations and abuse. It would always end with my mom getting so angry she would forever stop talking to this new friend and with my mom having hurt feelings as the victim. Not a good role model, and thankfully not one I followed.
Back then (before cancer and when I was single) it just seemed easier to stick with my guy pals...My male friends generally weren't moody or jealous of anything I had going on in my life and they were ready to meet me for dinner/coffee/movies any old time and I usually didn't need to give them much warning-- if they were free they would go and if they weren't they would tell me why and no one would have hurt feelings. And if I canceled our plans at the last minute (something I'm famous for doing) they were usually ok with that too.
Except for Dan, the male friends I had stayed in the friends category for life once they were inducted. If that bothered any of them, I would be the last to know. I tend to be oblivious to that sort of thing anyway...In fact after years of friendship with Dan, I still practically had to be hit over the head with his feelings to see them for what they were--romantic and starring me as his leading lady.
But then cancer came and changed all that. The women in my life stepped forward and filled in needs I didn't even know I had. My sister and stepmother became rocks that I could cling to in a storm and helped in both emotional and financial ways to keep me and my family afloat. Angela carefully and thoughtfully nurtured me and my family. Brenda was supportive and helped me navigate the sea of cancer treatments and emotions I had before, during and after tests and scans. Helen understood my fears of mortality and bolstered my will to keep going. Mary Jo quietly listened to everything and validated it all as normal and made me feel like I could cope with anything that came my way. The gals from my pregnancy support bulletin board read my posts about all my trials and tribulations dealing with cancer and never once made me feel like I was killing off the joy they shared with eachother talking about getting pregnant, being pregnant and raising babies. Judy and Linz sent me care packages and somehow just guessed when I was feeling low and needed a pick me up in the form of a surprise in the mail. Melinda came and did yoga with me weekly for a few months when I thought cancer was going to leave me alone. Mandi bought or cooked dinners or the family, watched Jennifer and walked with me during sunny days anytime her busy Doctor in Resident schedule would allow. Susan helped with baby transportation and babysitting as often as she was able. And Jill helped me remember that even a longtime good friend can be overwhelmed so much by this chronic illness that it hurts too much to be part of my life and for her own good, she must cut her ties to me without a word of explanation. And I'm ok with that.
Cancer survivors like to talk about the gifts of cancer. It can be hard to think of something so malicious as cancer giving gifts, but I think this is one of them for me. If not for cancer I might never have known how wonderful the friendship of women can be.
Health update: I'm still going in for weekly chemo and it's really slowing me down--I almost never feel energetic anymore, and I need tons of sleep--it makes me sad to waste so much of the day laying around. I go in for chemo three Wednesdays in a row with one off. This Wednesday (09/06) is my day off from chemo so with any luck I'll start to get a teensy bit of energy back before I'm slammed again. Is the treatment still working? I don't know. I worry about it every day. I obsessively check my right side rib cage and chest for lumps and bumps but I'm so skinny now that I can't even tell what might be a bump due to cancer recurrence and what's just a protruding bone with no fat or muscle over it anymore. I ought to be going in for a scan pretty soon to see what's going on in my lungs.