Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The friends you will make

I've spent a lot of time inside my own head these last two weeks when I wasn't busy with school work. I've been thinking about a few of the contradictions you come to live with after a cancer diagnosis and how they've changed the way I connect with people. I'm unsure of how to interact with people in some social situations thanks to cancer and I'm less tolerant of particular behaviors. I can't hear some one sneeze without feeling the overwhelming need to whip out the Purell.

One of the biggest mysteries of life post cancer diagnosis for me is how I can feel more connected to people I've never met than people I know in real life. I've made plenty of virtual friends since being diagnosed in January 2007. Most are also cancer survivors. I've been able to read their blogs and correspond through emails and twitter. I regularly talk to my friend, PJ, who is stalwart in calling this phone-phobic girl.

We all share a connection through our collective experiences. Sometimes we measure our own progress against each other. Sometimes we look for what we should expect in our own journeys. And mostly, we share in the little victories that remind us we're one day further from that dark day of diagnosis.

I started following Jim and Dori late in 2007. Dori was diagnosed with AML in 2007, a few months after my diagnosis of ALL in the same year. Chris and I checked in on them regularly and we saw a lot of our own story in their writings. It's hard not to start caring about people you've never met when you peek in on their lives every week.

Dori had a matched unrelated donor transplant with a 10/10 HLA match at Vanderbilt and was getting back to living her life and raising her 2 beautiful kids. Last summer, she relapsed and suffered with one hell of a bout of GvHD. She spent 53 days in the hospital. The cancer went into remission. The extreme GvHD acted like a sort of mini-transplant.

2 weeks ago, I read the news that Dori had relapsed again. I never imagined that I would get to meet Jim and Dori since we live so far apart. When I read that they were going to MD Anderson for a second opinion on treatment options the week before I had an appointment to see my transplant doctor, I thought it might be more than a coincidence.

I got to meet Dori in the flesh yesterday while she was receiving chemotherapy. I don't know that I can adequately explain the instant sense of connection you get when you look into the eyes of a fellow survivor. You just know. You speak the same language regardless that you don't share the same disease or experience.

I looked Dori in the eye and recognized her determination and grit. She has her game face on. She's taking notes and asking questions. She's getting ready to kick cancer's ass.

I didn't get a chance to meet Jim because he was driving back from Tennessee, but I got to talk to him on the phone. He reminded me a lot of Chris and I know he's going to be Dori's biggest advocate.

MD Anderson can be a very overwhelming place, especially your first week there. I don't know if our visit helped, but I do know that I'm grateful for the opportunity to talk to another tough chick whose story I've followed for the last 4 years.


Jim said...

Lots of love to you and Chris. Thanks for connecting with my sweet girl. Your kindness is appreciated and we'll see you at MDA the next time.

Ronni Gordon said...

What a wonderful post. You express things so well. Glad you and Dori got to meet.

lisa adams said...

now following Jim and Dori. thanks for the introduction.

lbw said...

know what you mean. I've joined a fb group for my very rare subtype of lymphoma...and whilst there are just one or two line interactions, I feel very close to them because they're the only ones who know. And then young people, esp. women, who've gone through something similar.

And I look to places, such as your blog, for inspiration.