I just spent three weeks on a whirlwind trip to the United States. During those three weeks I spent time in four different cities, slept on seven different mattresses, carefully seated myself aboard eight different airplanes, and visited over 35 friends and family members. Each visit transported me to a different time in my life, and also made me realize how lucky I am to still be in touch with so many friends from around the globe.
People have often asked me, “Why is it important for you to make such an effort to see old friends? I live in the same city as Friends A and B and we rarely see each other.”
My answer to that question is, friends have always been very important to me, even before I had cancer. Friends help you to laugh through bad times and good, support you when you need it, listen to both your triumphs and failures, and find a way to resolve the conflict even when you have a disagreement.
Since I have lived abroad now for eight years, friendship has taken on a new importance in my life. It takes about nine or ten hours in a plane to travel from Dalian or Santiago to the United States, so I often only go home once a year. To visit me requires time and expendable cash, so very few have been able to do so. When you experience a different culture far away from home it is a bonding experience. The community that you live with in that foreign place becomes your family and they are the ones that bare witness to that era of your life. No one else can really relate to the time when I lived in Spain, China, or Chile, except for the people who lived there with me and shared that experience. That is why I keep in touch with my good friends from each period of my life.
Friendship is not just about telling funny stories about the past though. It’s not just about shopping for party clothes at Forever 21, and cheering each other on during flip cup tournaments. Although having fun is definitely an essential element of friendship… Friendship is also about offering support when a friend veers from your shared life path, buys a house, and adopts the sleep-deprived lifestyle of parenthood. As most of you know, I’m not the biggest baby person in the world. My limited experience with them is they poop and cry a lot, and are extremely needy. They require a lot of time, patience, and sacrifice, that I’m not sure I possess. But it really is something to watch your friends switch from holding tightly to Red Solo cups to tiny human beings. At first it was strange to see my friends whip out their boobs in a non-Mardi Gras style atmosphere, but after awhile I got used to it. To all my friends who are now parents: I was so happy to spend time with your mini-me’s and watch what responsible, loving parents you’ve become. I’m really impressed! You even convinced me to hold a baby or two, myself, if you can believe it… Although I’m not sure I could handle being a full-time mom, I sincerely enjoyed being Auntie Eli this summer. When my niece, Harper, asked me if I could help her wiggle her loose tooth as she sat on my lap, I began to see the appeal of having kids. When a child clearly displays affection for you, it is nothing short of magic. When you hear their giggles you have no choice but to smile.
During the time that I’ve been living with metastatic breast cancer I have learned what true friendship is. Friendship is coming up with the idea of Team Eli bracelets and raising thousands of dollars to support Metavivor. Friendship is buying said bracelets for you and your family members to show your support for Team Eli. Friendship is purchasing crane earrings and necklaces as a declaration of hope and optimism. Friendship is getting thrown-up on by your childhood friend on oral chemo pills, and brushing it off as if it were nothing. Friendship is dropping everything in your life and flying 11 hours down to Chile not once, not twice, but four times in four years in order to give your friend a hug and tell her it’s going to be okay, even though it may not be.
True friends help shave your head when the chemo or radiation kicks in. They help you shop for and name your wig so the experience of losing your hair is less awful. True friends do puzzles and sit on the couch with you because you’re too weak to leave the house. They offer their arms to steady you so you don’t fall down the hills of Valparaiso or the sand dunes at Oxnard. They pretend not to notice the twenty-pound weight gain brought on by the steroids, and assure you that you look good. They celebrate your survival of treatment and illness by popping open champagne bottles.
True friendship means offering your family’s beach house as a reunion point for all of your California friends. It’s playing corn hole while donning top hats in Michigan City, Indiana, because your quirky friend found someone equally quirky to spend his life with. Friendship is watching your sister smile ear to ear as she is greeted with a tunnel of twenty-two boisterous friends at the entrance to her “Rally Ali” bachelorette party. I’m glad Ali’s been as lucky to find her people as I have.
Thank you to everyone who hosted me or went out of the way to visit with me during this summer/winter break. Even if it was only for a brief period of time, I am very glad that I was able to reconnect with so many of you. As I mentioned in my last blog, Emerson states that one of the most important keys to success in life is to “To laugh often and much”. By having you all as friends, I truly feel that I’ve achieved that.