Butterfly Anna
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What Leukaemia has taught me about friendships

Butterfly Anna
Posted by
20 Feb 2018

A Leukaemia diagnosis effects every part of your life, friendships included. Here is my experience and how I have learnt to deal with the changes.

Great Friends

Cancer has a profound effect on your life in many ways, the ripple effect seems to go on and on and on.   Before you become part of this world you have no idea it will change you and how you see your life going forward.

There's no denying that the emotions attached to a cancer diagnosis are complicated and of course there is no rule book but mostly you can learn the new rules together as some of my friends have proved.  Cancer doesn't change the fact that friendship should be a two way street, where you get out of it as much as you give.  We all know that relationships can be tough to navigate at the best of times let alone during a storm like cancer.    Then there's the fact that everyone copes in different ways, family and friends included, but that doesn't mean you can't find some common ground to work from.  It is not impossible to continue and even strengthen established friendships.

One of my good friends, who sat by my hospital bed and has remained supportive to this day, even though she has a lot to contend with in her own life, once said to me 'friends should grow with you'.

The quote below really sums up my thoughts on what I believe a friendship should be and is true of those I am lucky enough to consider my close friends, I am grateful beyond words to them, they are my saviours;

"A friend is one that knows who you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become and still gently allows you to grow"

At first you are surrounded by many friends and these are days that I will always cherish and will hold a special place in my heart.  I am not ungrateful at all and will never forget how much of a comfort they were.  Sure I expected this to fade to a degree and I fully appreciate people have their own lives, worries and pressures to deal with but to disappear completely just doesn't make sense to me.   I know this because I am a friend too and even though I have a very busy life and a lot to deal with I've still managed to send a text to let a friend know I am thinking of them when I know they need it.  So I do know it is possible, especially with social media and technology how it is today.

Since being on the long road to recovery I've experienced first hand that going through the toughest, darkest time in your life brings out people's true colours, both in a good and bad way,  I was totally prepared for some bumps along the way.  Although something I was not prepared for was what can only be described as a seismic shift in my relationships with some well established friends.  This has lead me to consider whether or not these friendships were ever what I thought they were all along.  I've seen them as if I was a stranger looking in from the outside because in many ways that's how I felt at times.

Being diagnosed with cancer has thrown me into another dimension and nearly three years later I am still trying to adjust to what it means, what I've lost and how I feel about it all.  In my case my diagnosis of acute leukaemia, (described as highly aggressive, fast developing and rapidly fatal) required high dose, intense chemotherapy and months in hospital.  So because of this my life was ripped away from me, never to be recovered or given back, I've had to grieve for this and have needed ongoing support from loved ones and friends.

As I've struggled to come to terms with my 'new normal' those who I now call close friends have listened, comforted, encouraged and suggested ways to cope.  On the flip side I have been in situations where I've felt completely invisible, where not one person has asked me how I am, what is happening with my job, when I am next due to have my bloods checked or whether I am even coping.  Of course I don't expect this on every encounter but this was early on when it was still raw and I hadn't seen them for a while so it would make sense for it to be mentioned at some point, especially when every other subject under the sun was discussed including their mundane day to day moans which made it all the more offensive and thoughtless to me.

Some will blame me because I changed but all I've done is realised that I want to be as happy as I can in my life and that means that I am no longer prepared to spend the precious days of the rest of my life, being a puppet for someone else's benefit.  This is where, I've realised, one type of friendship has failed.  You know the one where when you actually look back you realise that your purpose in that relationship was only ever to stroke their ego and never to rock the boat.  When someone isn't being truthful or genuine I just can't be around them whereas in the past I would let a lot of things go.  As a result some would take advantage of my good nature but that didn't mean that I didn't notice.

This quote sums up what my last paragraph was about;

"When someone says 'you've changed' it simply means you've stopped living your life their way"

One of the positives from my diagnosis is enlightenment and re-evaluation, leading me to be more aware of what I want my life to be about.   I know my worth, how I deserve to be treated, what I want to achieve and my desire to help others in a similar position. Unfortunately while some have voiced how proud they are of what I've done and to be my friend others have only shown indifference and total disinterest.  Though why they wouldn't want you to be happy and do whatever you need to heal I will never fathom.  I have been criticised for being involved with charity, fundraising and supporting others which I do as my way of paying it forward.  After all where would I be without those who've done the same before me?  How can this possibly be seen as a bad thing?  Maybe it's because they don't like it when I've received heartfelt thanks and praise on my blog or social media for my help and achievements.  Those friends have never bothered to find out what it is I actually do, that I help with studies on AML, documentation for clinical trials, campaigns for rights of cancer patients and so on.

I suppose the behavioural experts out there would suggest these changes are probably to do with human nature, the dynamics within a group and obviously life changing events; meaning that they are inevitable and predictable, though understanding this doesn't make it any less painful.

After Cancer your world becomes a kaleidoscope of emotions and one thing you can be certain of is change.

I am putting together a post about the truly amazing friendship experiences I've had since my diagnosis too, there have been so many enriching, uplifting moments so please pop back soon or follow by email for a reminder (I don't post very often so you won't be bombarded!!)

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts/experiences on this...you can also find me over at butterflyinremission.com