Most everyone starts off on the “fighting pediatric cancer” journey with loads of friends and family. The second you say the word “cancer,” it’s like you are suddenly the host to the world’s largest love fest. You have friends you didn’t know you had and your family members all stand up and offer to help, give hugs, snuggle on your child. All of them. No joke.
My theory is that no one wants to be seen as being insensitive to the kid with cancer. No one wants to be seen in anything other than the best light. And so the initial response while the lime light is on the kid and his or her parents is for everyone within striking distance to step forward and say “ME! I’ll Help!”
At first you feel warm and a sense of community. But then the lights fade off your kid cause killing cancer takes serious time, and you are suddenly a part of a much smaller community than you originally thought you could rely on. Inexplicably, people disappear.
Why? Well that depends. There are two camps of these people:
- The ones that weren’t really there from the start. For some of them, let’s be honest, they were only really there because they were being watched by others. These are the people who aren’t really a part of your life anyways. That coworker that’s always kinda been a jerk. The cousin that’s always tried to one up you for attention anyways, or is just jealous of the attention your little one is getting. Those people you probably aren’t going to miss, so just them go, you’ll be better for it.
- The people who couldn’t handle the stress of loving someone with cancer in their life. What about those people you thought would be there? That friend from college that you used to go out with every other week. The coworker you have lunch with every day. *POOF* Gone. They disappear because they don’t really know what to do. They just don’t have the answers and they want to, but not having the answers scares them out of your life. They can’t make it better. They are afraid to talk to you about their healthy children. They don’t want to feel guilty because their children are healthy. And they feel like they can’t relate. So they slowly fade out. The phone calls stop. The visits cease. And suddenly it’s been two weeks since you heard from your “close friend.” I feel bad for these people, because they are usually well meaning, but fear and uncertainty takes over and rules their actions.
You are going to be surprised by who is still standing at the end of this. You will lose friends that you expected to have for the rest of your life. And you are going to have family members that completely write you off. It’s going to hurt. It’s like culling a herd of weaker animals. At the end, you have a smaller herd, but those that remain are the strongest and can survive anything with you. In the end, you are going to find a new family in the group of people that surround you and support you and give you a part of them to help your little warrior through it.
When you turn around after a month or so of holding your little warrior and talking to doctors and lamenting the process and losing your ever-loving-mind and not really paying attention to anyone around you not involved in keeping him or her alive, and you find a small herd of people standing there with casseroles, hugs, cleaning your house for you, driving 2 hours to the hospital to spend the night on the floor with you so you don’t feel so alone. And they aren’t the people you expected.
Sure, your best friend that’s been there for you since the dawn of time is the one on the blow up mattress next to you, but she’s really your sister-by-another-mister, so that doesn’t surprise you at all. It’s your coworker that drove two and half hours to the hospital to deliver you new, clean, warm PJs and fluffy socks that floors you. It’s the friend online that you’ve never met in real life that you give your cell phone number to and she talks to you for hours while you both scour medical journals for a reason for why your child’s bilirubin keeps going up with blood transfusions, that one is surprising. It’s the other coworker that went door-to-door at work asking for people to donate time off for you to keep getting paid while you lived in the hospital with your child. It’s that cousin that volunteers a PART OF HER LIVER to my child, despite the fact that we never really talked much before hand (and honestly don’t have much in common to talk much now. But I will never be able to express just how that effected me. I love her enormous generous heart, even without the weekly talks.)
The generous, open people that you didn’t see standing there before are the surprise. They are the miracles that come out of nowhere and set up house to try to help you get through the cancer. They are the friends and colleagues that will forever have your love and respect for their actions.
You can approach the changes in relationships a few ways. You can get hurt and angry and lose it on the people who turn their backs on you, or you can just let them go.
I didn’t do it the smart way. I got angry. I was hurt. I was not okay with it at first. But then I got sucked into the life that is fighting cancer and I lost myself to medication schedules and blood draws and endoscopies and CT scans. Anything not related to my daughter getting healthy or me putting food on her table got pushed aside. At some point, after the dust settled, I realized that those who left me in the flames were gone for good, for whatever reason. And I realized that I was okay with that. I didn’t want people in my child’s life that weren’t there for 100% of the fight, whether the seas are calm or stormy. I didn’t want someone who didn’t have my child’s health and well-being at heart, for whatever stupid reason. Those that either didn’t want to deal with it or couldn’t handle it shouldn’t be in her life anyways. So I closed those doors.
Your relationships with family and friends are totally different. Only one of my friendships is the sort of the same, and that’s my best friend. She’s been there with me for over a decade and I love her so very much, but even she’s stepped up in ways I never expected. Outside of her and our parents (who jumped through every flaming hoop put in front of them), everything has changed. I have had people I barely know give so much of themselves to my child. And I have formed a new family out of those people.
It’s taken something drastic, but because of my daughter’s cancer, I now know who to trust. I know who will come through for my family and who I love with all my heart. The rest just aren’t worth being heart-sick over anymore. And that’s where you end up at the end of fighting pediatric cancer. Much like every other aspect in your post-cancer diagnosis life, Everything.Has.Changed. Some for the worse, and some for the better. But it’s a new life on this side of cancer, and these are the new people in my new life.