I went through a small amount of girl drama during high school. It was short-lived but I remember my mom pulling me out of school once because the beginning of the day had been fairly emotional. After the drama had passed, my mom left a little plastic card in my bedroom. Meant to fit in your wallet, and about the size of a credit card, it said, “I don’t need a certain number of friends; just a number of friends I can be certain of.” She signed it on the back, “Love ya, Mom.”
I still have that card and it’s still shockingly true. Cancer made this very clear. I have always been the quality-over-quantity type, but cancer reminded me of it with big, flashing lights. When I look back now at chemo days, I’m not surprised at who drove up to Omaha to sit with me for hours during treatments. They didn’t even ask. They just checked when my next treatment was and told me they were driving up to visit. My best friend got me an “inspirational” book called “Screw That” (but the R-rated version) – we read it during treatment and laughed until we cried. She stayed the weekend with me and that night, after wearing a scarf on my head all day, she said to me, “Take that off. It’s me.”
My two best friends from high school also showed up separately. One of them lived in Amsterdam at the time. The details are foggy as to why she was in town or how she made it to Omaha, but she showed up. The other one lives 6 hours away. She also showed up. When my friends weren’t there, my parents were there. My friends in Omaha met up in one of their kitchens on a Saturday morning, spent a day preparing meals to freeze, BOUGHT ME A DEEP FREEZE, delivered it to my house, and filled it with food.
I am two of my uncles’ only niece. They both drove up for my surgery just to sit in the waiting room for hours. They swarmed my surgeon like bees on honey every time she came out of the operating room with updates. Throughout my journey, they checked in with me regularly to make sure I was feeling okay. My oldest brother flew in from Oklahoma for my surgery and my youngest drove up with my parents. I laid in my hospital bed the day after my surgery and took a picture of the view. My dad in the chair at the foot of the bed, my mom in the corner chair, and my two brothers sitting in chairs on either side of a small end table by the window. Just sitting, looking at their phones, or watching the hospital room TV. Literally doing nothing but being there.
These are your people. The people who show up. Not the ones from college who send you an Instagram message because they saw a photo of you and couldn’t believe you were bald. Not the old high school friends who ask about you but never reach out themselves. Not the people you haven’t talked to in years, but who send you Facebook messages with their condolences.
When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you realize that at some point you became a checkmark on some people’s to-do lists, unbeknownst to them. It makes people feel good to check the box that they reached out to say, “Thinking of you! Let me know if there’s anything I can do!” We’ve all done it.
And that’s okay. I realized throughout my journey that I didn’t owe anyone a response or an update if I didn’t feel like providing it. And that’s also okay. I know some people reached out because they had genuinely thought about me or wished me the best. The thought was there, and of course, I appreciated the thought. But you can be certain that your people will just show up. And when they’re finished, they don’t go away. Almost four years post-cancer - they’re still here.