Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nice to Meet You... By the Way I have Breast Cancer

October is definitely breast cancer awareness month for me. This month, almost two years ago, I had both of my breasts removed. I remember prior to my surgery having lunch with a woman I had recently met through my son’s baseball team and really liking her. At the end of lunch she felt the same way that I did, we had connected. “Let’s bring the kids here one night for pizza.” She began. “Maybe we can do a yoga class together?” She continued. I felt a tug. I had to tell this person whom I hardly knew that I would not be able to join her in any of these activities because I was going to be going through surgery and chemotherapy for my cancer. So I dove in. “Julie* I want to tell you something and I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I have breast cancer so I won’t be making any plans for a while.” Her face went white. After a few seconds she recovered and said, “Let me know if I can help with your kids or anything else.” She said, catching her breath and scribbling her cell phone number on a napkin. “Call me any time."  She said as we walked out of the restaurant, and I knew that she meant it.   I left that luncheon trying to figure out how to manage my disease.

Eventually, I figured out that I wouldn't be able to go it alone.  I needed the help of my friends and neighbors.  So I asked, in a mass e-mail, explaining my diagnosis and giving people information on who to contact for meals, etc.  The help poured in and thus I was surrounded by a "web of caring" which was formed primarily by women.  This support system was uplifting and transformative for me during my illness. Women whom I had known for many years and women, like Julie*, I had recently met formed a small army of dedicated soldiers who watched the front line as I battled as best I could behind them. My point is; the little things in life do make a difference.

Virtual strangers took my children home for play dates, provided meals, and became my new friends; we had recently moved to Pennsylvania from Chevy Chase, MD. My oldest and dearest friends moved in to our spare bedroom, each taking a week to leave their families to take care of mine. They shuttled the children to and from school, they painted my toenails and they did my laundry ( I know for a fact that my friend Laurie doesn't even do her own laundry so you can imagine my surprise when she brought a pile of clean clothes into the room where I was infirmed). At night, they fed my children the meals that had been provided and read them bedtime stories. I also enlisted the help of three Villanova University students who basically became the “big sisters” to my children; playing board games and red light green light with them after school.

Each of the women who helped me did it quietly and with little fanfare. They weren’t looking for thanks or praise, they simply wanted to help. And help they did. Because of them I was able to rest and get better. I feel a responsibility to them. To tell them how grateful I am for this gift. It made difference in my recovery and my life. Do we thank people for these things often enough? I don’t think so and I would really like to thank my girlfriends.


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