Friendship Through a Cancer Diagnosis: Bringing Joy, Laughter, and Understanding

two women rear view

She had been trying to get in touch with me for weeks, and while the phone tag was insane, it was not entirely unexpected. We are both single working moms sandwiched between two school-aged kids and our aging parents. Our schedules are ridiculous and the “To Do” lists are long. But Mary and I have been the best of friends for 20 years – the types of friends where time and distance (we live states away from each other now) just dont matter. I knew we would connect. She had a new boyfriend, and I was sure she just wanted to gab.

Finally I got a text from her: Call me. Its about my health. It will sound crazy at first, but everything will be fine.I immediately picked up the phone and called her. Before she could even say hello, I screamed, Oh my god, youre pregnant! I am so excited!There was a pause that I wasnt expecting, and she finally replied, No Ivy, Im not pregnant. I have cancer.

And. My. World. Stopped.

Mary spent the next thirty minutes explaining all shed been through over the past couple of months – her struggle to get a diagnosis, the doctors on her team, the nature of the tumor, her treatment plan, and her prognosis. Im honestly not sure that I heard a word she said. Well actually, I heard one word over and over againcancerI simply couldnt breathe.

Eventually as the shock wore off, the caregiver in me (and lets face it – we are all caregivers) took over – it was time to make a plan. What did she need? A chef to make her only the healthiest foods? How was she going to get to her chemo and radiation treatments? Did she need her own personal Uber escort? Is that even possible? What could I do? How could I help? How could I make sure that my friend would be ok?

I declared that I was coming to be with her for at least a week to do anything, everything or even nothing. She had no option here. We picked the week, and I booked my flights. As my plane touched down, I admit that I was afraid. For more than 20 years our worlds had been aligned – new jobs, dating, marriage, kids, and even divorce. And now my dearest friend was living something I simply couldnt understand. She was in pain in every way – her body was being attacked in an attempt to save her life; she was terrified of her treatments and the thought of losing her health and her kiddos. Would I be able to offer anything that would truly be of help to her?

Yet as soon as I met her curbside, relief and love and gratefulness to be there flooded me. We hugged fiercely until the cops ushered us along – maybe they knew she was radioactive. We spent the next seven days living like college roommates – trying on each other’s clothes, rearranging the furniture, binge watching Netflix (Frankie and Grace, anyone?!?), laughing until we cried, crying until we laughed.

I forced her to Whole Foods as I was completely unsatisfied of her diet of white rice and Wonder Bread. There had to be at least organic Wonder Bread. We wandered the aisles and filled carts with all sorts of cancer fighting, health maintaining, and mostly unrecognizable foods. I have no idea if any of it helped her feel better physically, but the howling laughter had to have helpeda lot. One very important lesson, no matter what the box says, Bone Broth tastes NOTHING like tea (the ultimate laugh-until-you-cry moment)!

The time flew, and as Mary dropped me off at the airport a week later, we were again hugging so long the cops were fussing at us. But I didnt care. It had been a week that I would never forget. All of her physical needs were being cared for by a team of people with more education than I can ever imagine. I was there to care for her soul, because when it comes to Marys heart and spirit, I have a lifetime of knowledge that cannot be matched.

It can be so difficult to know how to properly care for someone. At the end of the day, sometimes the best care you can give is to just live life with those you love even if its just for a little whileto bring joy and companionship and understanding and laughter and tissuesand dont forget the Bone Broth!

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