I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past couple of weeks. How are friendships formed and maintained? Are there un-written rules about friendship? Are friendships time limited? Are there any other differences between remote/online ‘friends’ and those whom we see and meet? Is there a time when a friendship comes to a natural end or should you go above and beyond to keep all connections going? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to impart any wisdoms, I don’t have any pearly advice or insight. I’m not the best at keeping in touch, but my family’s experience of a cancer diagnosis has really impacted on our friendships and its got me thinking about this topic. I’ve lost contact with some people following M’s diagnosis and have been surprised and disappointed accordingly.
It’s been said before, but bad news has a way of sifting the wheat from the chaff – by which I mean that a cancer diagnosis (or other such life altering news) is a fast track way of testing the strength of friendships. Prior to being told M had cancer, if you’d have asked me “who would stick by you if the brown stuff hit the fan?” I think I’d have given you a pretty comprehensive list of those family and friends who would have our back. Post diagnosis and almost 19 months on, and the list looks quite different…
I must state that I have and continue to hold dear some seminal relationships with friends who have stuck by us through thick and thin. They have gone above and beyond to help and support all members of our family unit, and they continue to do so. We’re lucky to have them, and we count our lucky stars to have them.
Analysing what makes these strong bonds I’ve come to the conclusion that geographical location and face to face contact doesn’t seem to be a precursor to a successful friendship. Neither it seems, does longevity. In fact, I’ve made some friends in the past 18 months who know me better than friends I’ve known for 10 years +. Admittedly, most of them are also oncology parents – but with another oncology parent – you don’t need to explain so much. The fraternity we enter once diagnosed with cancer is a hugely supportive and knowledgeable enclave. I asked one of the Facebook oncology groups I’m a member of for their advice and experience with regard to friendships for this blog and the themes and issues were all too familiar.
Some people have maybe had too much personal experience of a situation and are still decompressing from their own experiences. I can only surmise this though, as no one we know expressly said as such – they just weren’t there!
Some don’t cope well with a child’s illness and disability. It doesn’t seem right in the scheme of things – and believe me it isn’t. They don’t know what to say or how to cope with the situation. They themselves are scared and don’t want to appear to ‘lose it’ and add to the situation.
Certain individuals lack knowledge over cancer and chemotherapy treatment and fear hospitals, so you won’t see them for love nor money.
Then there are some who are themselves so distressed by how sad you are that they simply vanish – as they have the option that we don’t – of being able to distance themselves from the situation.
I also think that I think that some friendships fall by the wayside because, as an oncology parent your entire life becomes subsumed with medical details: blood counts, febrile neutropenia and raised temperature’s, mucositis, bowel movements and pee habits / colours. Ask any oncology parent (who isn’t a medical professional) if they know what the ‘Bristol Chart’ is and they’ll just nod in glum recognition. If you subscribe to social media your timeline soon becomes littered with rants and pleas and information all relating to paediatric cancers and lack of funding or research developments. I guess to a non-oncology parent / friend it’s simply off putting. Add to that that we cancel meet up’s and social gatherings. Sometimes it’s a medical reason, sometimes its that interacting with others is so very hard and sometimes its just pure exhaustion. So that in turn leads to a decline in invitations…
Trouble is, once you are pulled from your ‘Muggle’ life by a cancer diagnosis there is no returning (I must explain the Harry Potter reference: online discussions about our oncology parents different perspective, has led to light-hearted view shared by some that oncology parents are Wizards, non oncology parents are Muggles and with the possibility of those parenting children in remission become Half-Bloods. Harmless fun and as so many of us go on HP film and book marathons whilst in-patients – quite apt!) The fear, dread and reality of our different doesn’t ever leave you. We can’t un-wizard ourselves or un-know the reality of this horrendous disease or un-see the pain our children go through in coping with the treatments. So, inevitably we possibly become viewed as more emotionally more ‘high maintenance’, we’re less predisposed to cope with the facile and unimportant. We’re more likely to comment and call out where we see a ‘crock of poop’ or walk away so we don’t have to endure it. We’ve had to deal (basically because we don’t have a bloody choice), and we’ve had to face horrors we never imagined possible to endure. We’re not super human or superior, but the process makes us different. Sometimes stronger, sometimes broken … sometimes both.
Cancer is a pile of crap. Friends and family often don’t know how to cope when a young family member is diagnosed, although I’m not sure any of us who are placed in this unenviable position do perceive that we cope at all, it’s more a case of learning to take the next breath, and placing one foot in front of the other …