A Single Cell: Friendship

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“Somebody’s gonna drop everything, run out and crank up their car, hit the gas, get there fast, never stop and think what’s in it for me, or it’s way too far. They’ll just show on up, with a big ole heart. You find out who your friends are.”

– Tracy Lawrence

I have long lamented the fact that I don’t have what you’d call a “best friend.” Has anyone had one of those since 5th grade? Maybe it’s just a social construct that makes women feel as if we need one person with whom we share our deepest darkest secrets. Possibly it’s the same construct that makes us believe there’s one perfect soul mate out there for us. I gave up on that one a long time ago – think it’s time to let go of the other as well.

Friendship is a nebulous concept. Like any relationship, it takes work to build and maintain them. Some are very surface, and come about through shared hobbies or mutual friends. Others are deeper and more meaningful; built with people you feel you can share anything with. Friendships can grow and fade or die. Sometimes the parting is intentional or painful, and other times it is just a gradual reduction of a relationship that was once important to us and, now, no longer is.

As the Tracy Lawrence song suggests, when the chips are down, you do find out who your friends are. I was lucky enough to have people come out of the woodwork for me when I was diagnosed. Friends of my parents’, friends of my friends, and long lost friends that I hadn’t heard from in years all found some way to show up. Some made donations to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund in my honor, others sent cards, a few brought food, and every once in a while, someone would make a gesture that would bring tears to my eyes for its unexpectedness or kindness. I already knew I had great friends, but my experience with cancer reminded me of just how great they were.

It is interesting though, the people who show up for you are not always the ones you would expect. Sometimes those we feel closest to, or see regularly, have the least understanding of what we are going through, and others who we see rarely or not at all, are the ones who are there for us when we need them most. It can be puzzling, but I realized it doesn’t really matter who is there for you – only that someone is. Normally, a fiercely independent person, twice in my life – first when I broke my ankle in three places and spent weeks on crutches, and then when I went through cancer treatment – I found that I needed significant help.

The first time, I was ill equipped to ask for it. I expected people to intuitively know I needed help, and what I needed, and come rushing over to provide it. When that didn’t happen, I tentatively asked a few people to help out once or twice. I felt like an enormous burden every time. My mom helped me get over it, reminding me that I would be upset if a friend needed my help and didn’t ask. She was right. Just before my cancer diagnosis, an important friendship in my life ended for just that reason. My friend was going through a difficult time, and wouldn’t allow me to help or let me in. I discovered, that for me, that was worse than someone not being there for me when I needed them.

When cancer struck, I had learned to ask for what I needed, and largely, I got it. I still struggle with which friends fall into the category of those you can ask to drive you to the airport, or list as an emergency contact, and I think a great deal about the relationships in my life and the place they hold. I try not to get too bothered anymore when friendships fade. People grow apart for valid reasons: Our interests change, or just our schedules as friends get married or have kids. Or we find that we have different needs and seek out new friends to better meet them. I do my best to appreciate the friends that are part of my life at any given moment. There are many. You know who you are. Thanks.

“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love.”

– Elie Wiesel




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