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Teenage oncology patient talking with the doctor. Oncologist treating teen girl with cancer and provide emotional support, helping her with anxiety and depression.

Cancer Friends

BY MISSY BURGESS
Survivor, Stage 3a Breast Cancer
April 25, 2024. elephantsandtea.org

Friends.

Cancer during COVID. Seven hours from family. Neutropenic in the middle of a global pandemic. An unexpected passenger on the roller coaster of life.

As a fiercely independent human who feels guilty asking for help when unable to return the favor, suddenly asking for help became a matter of safety and survival. I have never felt so vulnerable in my life. I know I had good friends, sometimes great friends before cancer, but cancer leveled up relationships and taught me not to take these for granted. I would not have made it through without my cancer friends, but I often feel guilty and wonder if I could truly be a “cancer friend” when faced with the same situation.

Here’s what I learned about cancer friends:

A cancer friend sits through appointments and takes notes while you cry, making the oncologist re-explain your treatment plan when you don’t have the courage to say you don’t understand.

A cancer friend is someone who will go to the store to buy you baby butt cream with no questions asked when your tush hurts so much you cry from the constipation.

A cancer friend gets to know you as a human first and a patient second during 45 weeks of occupational therapy.

A cancer friend is a nurse who wears sassy socks with you during every treatment day because they want to make their patients smile.

A cancer friend is an advocate when chemo side effects take over and the lab questions your need for a different anti-nausea med.

A cancer friend sends you Goldfish by the pound when you share it’s your nutritional snack of choice during treatment.

A cancer friend is the one you can go wigless with and not feel self-conscious.

A cancer friend walks nearly every day with you, even on the hottest of days, just so you have social interaction.

A cancer friend comes over to pull the stinger out of your bald head when you get stung, and then brings Benadryl and a slushie to make it better.

A cancer friend does a year-long one-push-up challenge with you because they understand the place cancer left you in.

A cancer friend helps you say “yes” to new adventures when living life again is the scariest thing you have done.

A cancer friend celebrates the accomplishments post-cancer with you as if they are your greatest hype squad.

A cancer friend is still your friend even nearly four years later when everyone has moved on, but your brain missed the memo.

Cancer friends are the realest, rawest, most compassionate people I know. But, how do I ever pay them back?