In May 2017 I began finding daisies sprinkled throughout our property, daisies we did not plant. They were my mom’s favorite flower. I think she left them for me to remind me of the journey we took together, especially the lessons learned through her cancer and death. I’m sharing them now in the posts labeled “Daisy Chronicles.”
About a year after my mom died, grief became normalized. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the grief anymore, it was that the quality of the grief changed. It wasn’t that sharp spikey feeling that took my breath away. It was just there.
For the first time in a really long while (years) I felt like I could pick up my head, look around and decide what I wanted for my life.
I was no longer my mothers caretaker which had been a roll I played on and off for years. My children, now 6 & 8 no longer needed me the way they had as toddlers. I had launched my first conference to a sold out crowd and was considered a success in my entrepreneurial world.
But there was a part of me that felt lost. There was a part of me that had shut down through all the care taking and striving, the working and worrying and I wanted it back.
As I dug around inside to see what was missing a memory floated to the surface. It was my mom receiving chemo. In a sort of memory montage I thought about the women close to her that had come to sit by her side through those hours and hours of chemical injections.
And that is when it hit me. I had no chemo buddies.
A Chemo buddy is a unique type of person. They are selfless in their giving to you because when you are in the midst of chemo there is absolutely nothing you have to give back. Although the best chemo buddies can bring joy to you even as your body is pumped full of chemicals, it is hard to escape the truth that you are there because you have cancer.
A person who can sit with you and truly be with you in that space is a gift like no other. Although on rare occasions a recent acquaintance can rise to the level of chemo buddy, chemo buddies are generally built over time and share history.
There is another factor that makes a great chemo buddy and that is their proximity to you. They need to live close enough to actually get to your chemo treatments.
As I ran through the rolodex of women I had met since I moved to CT ten years earlier there wasn’t a single person I could imagine sitting by my side through chemo treatments. I had no chemo buddies.
I did not have cancer at this time, nor did I have any expectation that I would need chemotherapy in the near future, but the idea that if I did I’d be doing it alone consumed me.
It became glaringly obvious that in the midst of caring for all the people around me, paired with my complete inability to ask for help, I had neglected to build any sort of network for myself.
I had wonderful friends that would have easily been there for me through chemo or whatever the world threw at me, but none of them lived near by. They were the friends I had built over the years before kids, before illness, before struggle… when I had time.
I cried long and hard that day and when I went to bed I prayed hard “God, please help me find my chemo buddies.”
I woke the next day with no answers. That night I said the same prayer:
“God, please help me find my chemo buddies.”
I repeated that prayer, sometimes 8 or 9 times a day for weeks.
Then, as usually happens, God answered my prayer in the way I would have least expected it…
A woman I knew at my children’s school had just lost her mother to cancer. My heart went out to her immediately. I knew that pain so well. I put a dinner together and brought her some food and wine. I told her I would be there for her to talk when she was ready.
As I was driving home a warmth washed over me I hadn’t felt in so long. And that is when I realized God had just answered my prayer.
Chemo buddies aren’t unique individuals that just need to be located and they instantly move to chemo buddy-ready status. You can’t go out, find them and make them be your chemo buddy with a big, grand gesture.
Chemo buddies are built by showing up for each other in small ways that come with no glory and usually no thanks. Chemo buddies are built over good times and bad. Chemo buddies are built through selflessness and love.
Over the next year or two I found more opportunities to show up for others. I didn’t do it with the intention of making them be my chemo buddy and most of them never will be. I did it because I could help. I did it and continue to do it because I know what it feels like to hit a dark spot in the road and feel completely lost and alone.
When someone unexpected shows up to help in that moment of darkness, suddenly we are all a little closer to understanding that unexpected help is always available.
It is now four years since my original “chemo buddy” moment. I am proud to say I have a whole crew of women that I know would be my chemo buddies if that need ever came. I hope it doesn’t. But I know for sure something is going to happen where I’ll need them and I’m glad they are there.
I was talking to my son today about food we are planning to bring his friend’s family. His friend’s grandmother just passed (from cancer.). My son knows that loss well. He wants to help. But in the middle of discussing the meal his mood turned.
“Mom! Why didn’t anyone bring us food after grandma died!” He said with a mix of anger and confusion.
I answered him honestly.
Because I never asked buddy. I never told anyone what was going on.
And that is when it hit me. Maybe all those years I was taking care of so many people I could have been building chemo buddies just by asking for help. Maybe, it doesn’t have to start with giving. Maybe it can start with just be vulnerable enough to say:
I need help. Please help me.