Tuesday, April 7, 2009

With a little help from my friends

The outcome of my cancer fight may still be up in the air, but there is one thing that I can say with certainty:

I have more friends now than when I began this struggle two and half months ago.

In January, I wrote about stumbling upon a manuscript called "A Short Life," written by a man named Jim Slotnick who died of brain cancer in 1983 (see Short life, long legacy). Jim was a medical student at UCLA and volunteered at the clinic where I work.

I devoured "A Short Life" in a day or two a few weeks after I got my cancer diagnosis, and I learned more from it about this disease than just about anything else I've read.

I returned my copy of "A Short Life" to the bookshelf where I found it. Miraculously, my friend Shirley tracked down one of only a few leather-bound editions of Jim's manuscript in existence –a copy that had been presented to Jim's late mother– at a bookshop in New Mexico. Shirley had the book sent it to me for my birthday.

Since then, one of Jim's friends –a woman who Jim wrote about in the pages of his book– has contacted me and we've struck up a email friendship ourselves. I've also received an email from Jim's younger sister and his brother, both who have left comments on this blog.

These three people were in Jim's life as he was fighting for his life more than 25 years ago, and now they're offering me encouragement and support. When I pick up "A Short Life" these days, I feel an even stronger connection with the writer.

And then there is the guy who manages my apartment building.

Because of my work schedule, I don't see Dave around the building very often, but we were both in the laundry room recently and he tried to strike up a conversation. I wanted to explain to Dave why I wasn't responding to him, so I handed him a note explaining what's going on with me.

When I came home from work the next day, I found a cartoon that Dave had drawn for me slipped beneath my door. It shows a chipmunk-like character wearing a baseball cap and a T-shirt with a big smiley-face.

Next to the chipmunk, Dave wrote: "A big smile to brighten your day and for your recovery I sincerely pray! Hope your treatments go well!"

Another new friend dropped me a line late last week.

She is the stepmother of a friend I met through my work. This friend took time several weeks ago to collect a hefty package of cancer literature from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: an invaluable array of pamphlets, newsletters, booklets and other handouts on living with cancer.

My friend's 89-year-old stepmother was treated for cancer six-and-a-half years ago. Now, happily, her cancer is in remission.

Both stepmother and stepdaughter took the time last week to send me good wishes. Included in the envelope was a copy of a funny card that the stepmother received when she was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. She kept the card all of these years, and she wanted to share it with me.

"Hang in there," she wrote to me. "Life is a gift!"

Friends are gifts, too. I'm lucky to have so many helping me get through this.

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