This is actually a hard topic for me to write, my intention is not to offend anyone but I simply must get it out of my system before it drives me crazy.
I remember there was an Indonesian lady whose daughter was treated at the same hospital as me. She became good friends with my mum, and they supported each other through the hard times they were both facing. She told my mum how glad and happy she was to have met my mum whom she considered were much more caring than her friends back in Jakarta. Later on she explained how painful it was to see her friends ignoring her when she needed them the most.
I didn’t quite understand her story back then.
“Well MY friends would never do that to me!” I thought confidently after watching a “Get Well Soon” video made by a group of friends.
I was always a person with many friends. Making friends was always easy for me. So when I got ill, I was sure that I would have all my friends backing me up, supporting me through this hardship. I was the type of person that had many “best friends”, and I was positive that they would all be there for me.
I wish I could tell you that I had that experience, but I didn’t.
During the first year since I finally got my cancer treated, I did go MIA for a few months. I did it because I needed time to accept my condition. No one is ever prepared for cancer, it felt like a hurricane came into my life and took away what was supposedly the best years of my 20s. It turned my world upside down and it changed me in a lot of way – mentally, physically and spiritually. To top that, I was angry for most of the time, I wouldn’t have made a very good company anyway.
There were some messages on my Whatsapp from my friends and I did ignore them. I did it not because I held a grudge on them, but because I was in a lot of pain and as I said before, I had tremors on my hands which made it hard for me to type, plus I was just exhausted. I just couldn’t write the same story over and over again. Repeating my story to people made me angrier and reminded me every day that I was in hell.
However, during this period, there were some friends who didn’t give up on me. I remember a few of them asking me how things were, which I ignored the first few weeks. They gave me space to think but after a while they asked again. It was this persistence that showed me that they really care about me. Sadly, there were others who never bothered to contact me again.
My first mistake was assuming that my friends would be there for me. I expected the friends who were very close to me to care and support me during the whole “fighting cancer” process. I know that when you become friends, even more best friends, you didn’t read each other a vow promising to be there for one another through sickness and health but I kinda assumed it was the normal best friendy thing to do. I put way too much pressure on our friendships that I got very disappointed that after two years of dealing with cancer, the friends whom I expected to be there for me, never asked me how I am, or perhaps some did, but in a very casual “how are you” way instead of really wanting to understand how I really am.
This made me very upset, there were days, even until now, that I would cry in my mum’s arms asking her why my friends left me when I was dealing with this horrible thing. Did they not want the sick Aggy? Did they think I was not worth being a friend anymore? I felt deserted and very alone.
I understand that my treatment in Malaysia made it harder for my friends to see me since I was not always available at home. I also understand that they may have been offended that when they contacted me the first time, I didn’t reply. I wished they tried harder though. But of course this is just coming from my selfish self.
However, whenever I felt alone, I have been proven time after time that I still have a handful of friends who loves me unconditionally. These people are actually a surprising group since most of them have only been friends with me a few years. Although most don’t talk to me every day, they check up on me once a week to once a month, asking the progress of my treatment. They were friends I met at my graduate school who mostly reside in Europe, friends I met through blogging, friends I met through a conference three years ago, a friend I met in Bucharest. There were too friends whom I have known for quite a long time and have stuck with the sick, often angry and annoying me – I can safely call them my best friends.
What I love about these friends is that they don’t talk to me because they feel sorry for me, they genuinely want to know how I am and they really pay attention when I tell them the process of my treatment. It’s nice to be listened to, to be understood and to be asked questions like “sorry Aggy, I have no idea what a white blood cell injection is, could you explain it to me?”. There were even some who came to see me (one best friend spent some days in Jogja just to visit and cheer me up and some travelled to Kuala Lumpur no less!), even though they were busy and I couldn’t be that friend who could take them around. Most of the time they would just sit with me and listen to me talk. I am truly grateful for this bunch of friends because they get me through the day, they get me through cancer.
Then there were those unexpected friends: my mum’s friends who didn’t mind me tag along whenever they went out for lunch, cancer survivors who gave me strength and shared their experience, friends of my parents who have been helping us during our stay in Malaysia. Without a doubt, my family and I feel very blessed to have this abundance of love and support from them.
And yet, sometimes I still wonder why those who called me “best friend” when I was well, aren’t here for me now. I often ask the bunch of friends I listed above and surprisingly some gave the same answer: “maybe they don’t know how to deal with it (cancer)”.
My first reaction was “and I do?”. I never had a “How to deal with cancer when you’re supposed to be having the best time of your life” manual, this is precisely why I needed people who know me well to support me. Then I started to do a little reading on this particular subject.
I googled “when friends leave you when you have cancer”, surprisingly there were a lot of people who were suffering from cancer who experienced the same thing. Reading through other people’s experiences helped me understand the situation better, and also it made me feel normal for feeling like this.
I guess what I’m saying is that having cancer helped me filtered the friends who truly care about me. Scarily enough, it has also made me more sensitive of people’s intention. I would know when people were truly asking me how I am or was just being polite. It also has helped me to do some self introspection. Maybe it’s not them, maybe it’s me. During this struggle, I often put on a “stubborn and mean” demeanour which may have offended some friends or made me unapproachable. And also maybe when THEY were in their time of need, I wasn’t there for them.
Cancer is a scary thing and I understand not everyone can deal with it, but I urge you, if you have a friend suffering from cancer, be there for them. Cancer treatment can often take time, years even, so constant support and love is probably what your friend needs. You don’t have to be there for them physically all the time when it’s not possible, but give them a message, a call. You don’t even have to talk about cancer all the time (trust me sometimes it’s the last thing we want to talk about), just have a normal conversation, laugh, giggle, make them happy – happiness has such a positive affect on cancer patients. When they do want to talk about their illness, listen patiently, if you can’t find the words to comfort them, don’t force it. Often we don’t need a response, for you to listen is just enough. Do all that but please, please, don’t leave your friend.
If you’d like to read more on this subject: