Friendship and Childhood Cancer

Lily was diagnosed with a brain tumor almost 7 years ago.

She is healthy, now. She is brilliant. And she is whole.

Yet, I will never, ever be over what happened to her. I will heal. I will grow. I will stop laying awake at night riddled with fear. But I will never get over it. The trauma is too great.

Childhood cancer changes you. Forever.

Recently, one of my best friends told me what a hard time it was for her. Rachel was one of our rocks during diagnosis and treatment. She never, ever cried in front of me. She treated me like a normal person. She gossiped and laughed and asked questions when appropriate.

I remember one day, when Lily was still in CHOP, Rachel came and had coffee with me. We were sitting across from each other and I was prattling on about physical therapy and proton radiation.

I looked up and Rachel looked at me like I was a stranger.

Because, I was.

Rachel told that it was not that I was a stranger; it was that she did not know how to help me. And truthfully, there is nothing she could have done to help me. I needed my daughter to be cured. And unless she had a magic wand, there was nothing she could do. She just had to keep being my friend--giving me that one shred of normalcy I craved.

Being Lily's mother changed me in so many ways. When I was having the conversation with Rachel, I had been living in CHOP for weeks. My brain was filled with food and fluid intake diaries and physical therapy goals and medication side effects and MRIs and nights spent living in fear of the "Staff Emergency" alert, which was followed by the ominous sound of footsteps running down the hallway.

And then, the knowing that you were living in a children's hospital and that maybe down the hall, a child was dying.  Then the horrible realization that this had all become normal to you.

Just a month earlier, my family was on a vacation to Key West.

Childhood cancer made me different. It is a not an experience that I could share with my best girlfriend. We shared high school and crushes and wedding planning and the births of our first babies.

But this walk was one I had to do alone, with Mike and Lily.

Somehow, I think Rachel knew that. Karen and Kate knew it too. So did Jamie and Kari and Steve and Jen and and Kathleen and Janine and Lauren and Tracy and Brian and Megan and John and the countless other friends who supported us. They all showed up. They all listened. They made us meals and watched our dog and mowed our lawn and moved our cars. They never gave up on us, even when being our friends was painful.

I often have people ask me for advice on how to be a friend to a mother whose child is battling cancer. And truthfully, I don't know. You'd have to ask my friends.