Empowerment Through Friendship

Many of you may know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Every year, I participate in the 5-mile walk at Jones Beach, NY to help raise funds for this important cause. I’ve been doing this event for about 25 years. I remember the first time I was there; I looked around me and to the back of me; I was amazed at all the people who were in attendance. I’m pleased to say that each year those numbers have increased.

The reason I say I’m pleased at the additional support is because it’s clearly an indication of people being aware of how important this disease is; how necessary it is that we make sure a cure is found. Unfortunately, the flip side of this coin is the fact that these large numbers indicate just how many are stricken, in some manner, by this awful disease.

Generally, people get involved in causes because somehow it has touched their lives. As people walk that day, many display pictures of those whose memory they are honoring — mothers, wives, sisters, friends. The pictures show faces of women of all different ages and of all different ethnicities — breast cancer is an equal opportunity disease. (Though I have never seen pictures of men, it can strike the male species as well.)

So why do I walk? How has this touched me personally? I first started because my very close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. It started out with something very small. The doctors, in fact, told her she could take a “wait-and-see” posture. However, my friend chose to pursue it as her attitude was that the sooner one deals with a potential disease, the better off they are.

Her journey was a long and difficult one. First, the demands of all the tests … and then the waiting for the results. The waiting — sometimes, I think that’s the worst part of being sick. Then, hearing those awful words: “Yes, it is malignant.” Finally, there is the need to make potentially life-saving decisions about the options.

Now the task at hand is to make a good decision about how to deal with your illness. To do so, one has to get information, check out the options, weigh all the facts, and consider all the consequences. This is a very hard process to do when one has to work against the tidal wave of emotions that besiege you from “Yes, it’s malignant.”

In times of stress, having the support of others is a wonderful buffer. Yet a funny thing happens when others go through something as traumatic as a diagnosis as cancer. The people who can offer support feel overwhelmed. And in their own emotional upheaval, they often hide or withdraw.

My friend had a great deal to go through. To be quite honest, each day as I thought of her, I would get an immediate sense of how this might be too much for me to handle. And then I would think of how much more it was for her. With that thought, I made the call to her (we lived geographically too far to have any option other than calls).

Short of having to feel the actual physical sensations, we — yes, we went through her journey together.

It is an experience I would never trade. Since then I have known that it is something I can offer others and I know the deep significance it holds. It is a very special connection and it brought my friend and me a bond that went beyond what words could ever express. It empowered her, it empowered me and it certainly empowered our friendship!

I will share with you that my friend did outlive her breast cancer … made it beyond the 20 year mark. Sadly, she passed of other causes. I continue to walk with sadness in my heart but always in her honor.