Many of us who hear the bad news “you have cancer,” are also surprised by how many people turn away from us. Those who we had thought were our best friends, or who would help us to the end suddenly won't return phone calls. We discover that the word “cancer” is a powerfully frightening thing in our society, and people do not always react the way we expect.
Yet, sometimes people come through for you in spectacular ways. Have you ever had a room full of people applaud you? Well, maybe you are a famous movie star, or a motivational speaker, or community theater actor and applause is part of your world. But, I never have had that experience, nor expected to.
I have been off work for five weeks, recovering from a liver resection done for metastatic breast cancer. My place of business, which happens to be a high school, was putting on their customary yearly Thanksgiving Feast. It's very rare that the entire staff, from custodian to principal, have time to sit down together. All of us work for the benefit of kids in one form or another, but rarely do we join together. This was one of those times, and I decided I'd go say hi.
When I walked into the room, unexpectedly since I'd told nobody I was coming, all the people sitting down to their Thanksgiving meal – all 100 of them - burst into spontaneous applause. Loud, lengthy, extended clapping. For me.
I knew then, that I was home.
These people had been unusually supportive considering I've only been working at this school for a year. They took up a collection and gave me enough money so that my family could stay in a hotel for a few days while I had surgery in a different city. Then, when I came home, they took turns and brought me meals – wonderful things so while I was recovering, my family could eat. I didn't have to cook (or eat take-out) for weeks. And flowers, I even got flowers, sometimes left on my doorstep. A little gift to show I was not forgotten.
I have found support from relatives and friends, but like all cancer patients, have found some who have turned away, unable to look. Rather than let that hurt, it's important to realize support can come in the most unlikely places and for unlikely reasons. You may have that relative or former best friend who never calls you again. Cancer does that to some people. Mourn it and let it go.
Then remember: family is where you make it and support comes in many forms. Find your own and enjoy the applause.