Tuesday night I had a chatty two-hour dinner with a good friend I had never met before. It was the first time we have visited in person, but we hugged like friends who had known one another for years. For nearly a year, she and I have worked together on the phone and by email on projects related to “our” cancer, triple-negative breast cancer. I was diagnosed in 2006. She was diagnosed in 2010.
We sit outside on the San Antonio River Walk, enjoying a balmy early December evening. The food is delicious, the constant stream of river water and foot traffic entertaining, and the chance to relax a blessing after a full day at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
The cloud over our conversation is the fact that her cancer has returned. A big, mean, painful cloud. When she told me of her recurrence a few months ago, I was devastated. She is always much on my mind as I think of her children and husband, of the contributions she has made to the world in the past and those I hope to see in the future. I do not want to lose this new friend.
Over dinner she shows me a gorgeous picture of her with her three little girls and I say a silent prayer that she beats this thing, that she puts the lie to the fact that metastatic TNBC is lethal.
We talk about research we have just heard at SABCS that is refining the definition of TNBC, determining its set of diverse genetic mutations that may lead to targeted treatments. Soon, please, soon.
One topic threads into another seamlessly, as is the case with old friends.
Cancer builds seasoned friendships that grow in record time. Sharing a diagnosis means sharing part of our life, and those who have walked this same road know the journey. So we can talk about our fears of recurrence, grief over losing our former selves, anger about why cancer chose us, concern for those walking after us.
We part and I walk back to my hotel and smile quietly and sadly at the beauty of our bond.
Then, today I have lunch with another friend I had never met. She is a reader of my blog, another woman with TNBC with whom I have shared life experiences, research, even jokes about chemobrain. Yes, we know it’s not funny—oh, do we know. Her diagnosis is barely two years old while mine was six years ago, and I want to tell her that the mental fog passes, but I honestly can’t. It does get better, but words don’t come to me the way they once did.
We talk about being tired of being the Cancer Ladies, of wanting just to be Carol and Pat. No explanation needed, no whining, just a clear statement of fact, an unstated understanding.
Good friends are honest with one another. Friendships, even those formed online and from afar, are built of trust. And sharing cancer makes us realize how much we need that trust, how much we need one another.
Carol and I go to a Mexican restaurant on the river walk and, again, chat for two hours. That seems to be my chattiness threshold—two hours. Long enough to bond, not too long to overreach.
She picks my brain on what she wants to do next, about her hopes to give something back to the breast cancer community, to fill some voids in her own community and maybe spread it broader. It’s exciting talk. I am honored that she wants my perspective and I am eager to see what this smart, committed woman creates.
We say goodbye and hug. She has old friends who live near me in Iowa and she hopes to visit in a few months. I am looking forward to another long chat with my new old friend.
We’ll see where that goes. Until then, we’ll always have the Internet.
Read more about TNBC in my book, Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.