The words every woman fears, “You have breast cancer,” were finally spoken to me. Unfair! What had I done to deserve this? Why me? I cried by myself. No matter how many I was with, I was alone. Efforts to cheer me up were unsuccessful and I felt guilty that I couldn’t shake my deep sadness. I tried to hide behind a façade of false courage but I was filled with self-pity.
About a week before surgery, I asked myself what I needed to feel better. Was it climbing under the covers and hiding? I’d tried that and it didn’t work. Then it became clear to me that I wanted to laugh and feel joy which I hadn’t felt for a while. Without any plans except the date, Sunday, the day before surgery, I began inviting the women in my life to an “I get by with a little help from my friends” joy-filled party from 3-5 or all evening, whatever worked for them. School and college friends, neighbors, family and co-workers, all who had touched my life were included. From the moment I decided about the party self-pity or loneliness were gone.
When they began arriving I asked everyone to meet 5 new people. Joking, listening to well wishes and funny stories, walking from room to room and seeing people I loved laughing and enjoying themselves, I couldn’t have orchestrated it more successfully. Some stayed for half an hour; others stayed late into the evening just as I had hoped and asked for.
I invited those remaining, about 20, to the living room with no idea what I was going to say but a need to say it. I began, “Your presence here tonight is healing. Your offer of friendship, love, support–a relationship-is what makes the difference. I am incredibly fortunate. I want to thank you for being in my life. I love you for being in my life. You are a significant part of my well-being. I have had my share of illnesses and health challenges–all temporary. But, also, I have had an abundance of the things that have infinite value—wonderful friends, joyful experiences, the knowledge that I am cared for. The balance on the fairness scale is overwhelmingly tipped in my favor. Look around and you can see why.” It was a magical day and the walls of my house still resound with the echoes of the laughter, joy, and healing contained within.
Today, I am cancer free, and joy filled. This I believe. In order to get what I want, I have to name it. I wanted those I loved to be with me and to laugh and have fun. Second, I need to state what I want to those who can help me achieve it. Hoping others would guess what I needed wouldn’t get them to the party. I started inviting people about 5 minutes after I figured out what I wanted and was still inviting up to the day of the party. I stated the expectation that the party would be about laughter and fun. It was. Third, I need to be gracious in receiving what I ask for. Self-pity or loneliness can’t survive in such an environment.
Cancer has not turned out to be the end. It is the beginning. I continue to learn about and benefit from the power of relationships. This knowledge sustains me and will continue to do so through whatever life has in store, fair or not. This I believe.
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