Has it really been 24 years since Garth Brooks released his hit “Friends in Low Places?” Man I feel old. It seems like just yesterday that he was inspiring us with his tale of showing up at a fancy schmancy party and making a spectacle of himself in front of all those rich snobs. I still love this song even today. The irony is that he probably made enough money off of this one song to have as many “black tie affairs” as he would like and then some. But, I digress. This is a blog about cancer, not country music!
So how does “Friends in Low Places” relate to cancer? Well, I am so glad you asked! You see, people with cancer experience some major “lows.” Financial lows, for sure. But also, emotional, mental, physical, and social lows as well. Being a cancer patient, you tend to get chummy with other cancer patients. It’s only natural. People who like to sew hang out with other people who like to sew. People who like to fish, hang out with other people who like to fish. People who have cancer, hang out with other cancer patients. No matter how good of a support system you have in place, and I have an unbelievable one, no one truly understands cancer unless they themselves have it or have had it. Only someone who has had the experience truly “gets it.”
When I was diagnosed the first time around back in 2001, I sought out other breast cancer patients at the advice of my medical professionals. There were many support groups for women with breast cancer and I even went to a few meetings. But I had a problem. There was a huge disconnect with most of these women. I was the youngest by at least 20 years. I would listen to them worry about the cancer interfering with their retirement plans and lamenting that they might not get to see their grandchildren grow up. Now, don’t get me wrong. I felt really bad for these women. Their fears and anxieties were very real and certainly valid. However, I sat there, a 29 year old single mother of a three year old, just hoping to live long enough that my son might remember me should I end up dying of this dreaded disease. I just couldn’t quite relate and I don’t think they knew how to approach me with anything other than pity.
That’s when I got lucky. A friend of mine, who was a surgical nurse at the time, spent many office visits with post lumpectomy and mastectomy patients and she asked if she could give my name and number to a younger woman who was a post surgical patient of hers. She felt that we might have a connection because she too was a younger woman.
S called me a few days later and we really hit it off. She was 9 years my elder, but still the youngest woman I had met to date who was going through breast cancer treatment. S also knew other younger women who had gone through or were going through breast cancer treatment. It wasn’t an official support group, but they got together once a month for dinner and to share war stories. I started joining them shortly before my chemotherapy was to end and radiation was to begin. S was about 3 months ahead of me in her treatment. She even went with me to my first radiation appointment. She offered to go with me to subsequent appointments as well…..but I think that’s because she thought my radiation oncologist was good looking. Although the group disbanded after a couple of years, S and I stayed in touch.
In October of 2011, I received a message from S saying that she had been diagnosed with a new primary tumor in the opposite breast. It was devastating and disappointing to think that she had to start over after ten years. However, the new primary was caught very early and turned out to be quite insignificant. She had a double mastectomy and reconstruction and they sent her on her way. No chemo or radiation this time around. Now fast forward five months to March of 2012. Yep…..my turn for round two! She wrote to me after I told her the news and she joked “Why do you insist on following in my footsteps?”
My round two was quite different from S’s round two. As you all know, I not only had a new primary cancer (in the same breast) but also had spread to my bones. Which put me in the exclusive stage IV/terminal club. S was so positive and supportive and helped me tremendously at the beginning of this long and scary road. I am so grateful that she was with me through all of that. After 10 years, I no longer knew that many cancer patients and had to start networking all over again.
After I made it through the major surgery and treatment got underway, S and I would talk occasionally over Facebook, but just as non cancer patients don’t always understand the experience of cancer patients, non-stage IV patients need to lean on other stage IV patients. S was not stage IV. I kept her up to date and we messaged on occasion, but my major support group was now my friends on the discussion board exclusively for stage IV breast cancer patients.
At the beginning of July 2014, S sent me a message that began “God obviously wants us to walk this path together…..” Yep, S had been diagnosed with cancer that spread to her lungs. She has since found that it is also in her brain. Bottom line, she is now stage IV. Have I ever expressed how much I hate this f*$%ing disease? If not, just for the record, I hate this f*$%ing disease! It’s so unpredictable, unrelenting, and unfair! Okay, rant over. Moving on now.
I have no doubt that S will fight round 3 with as much strength and will as she has the previous two rounds. She is one tough woman and now, hopefully, it’s my turn to be there for her.
Like I said before, cancer has it’s “low places.” But I truly believe that having others to walk the road along side us, lifts us up. Not that I would wish this on anyone, but considering the statistics, there are and will be many companions. It’s predicted that cancer incidence will increase by approximately 45% between 2010 and 2030. Stated another way, there were 1.6 million Americans with cancer in 2010 and by 2030, there will be 2.3 million!
Sometimes it’s hard having so many friends with cancer. Watching those you grow to care about suffer through the trauma of diagnosis and treatment is hard. Dealing with the emotional, mental, physical lows of cancer is hard. Losing people way too early and often is hard. But, I wouldn’t trade my relationships for anything. People with cancer know that time is precious and life is short. They don’t waste their time worrying about those insignificant and unimportant everyday worries. They never pass up the chance to laugh with you, cry with you, or simply just be with you when you need them most.
So, just like Garth, I will keep my friends in low places. We’re not big on social graces…….think I’ll slip on down to the oasis…….oh I got friends in low places!
I dedicate this post to S. I love you sister!