Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

APRIL 30, 2017

We all know that our friends are one of life's biggest blessings. We have all experienced the incredible love and support and understanding and help that our friends can give us during hard times. Sadly, most of us (actually, I suspect it is all of us) have also experienced disappointment and anger when friends vanish during those same hard times.

When I meet with newly diagnosed women, I often suggest that they make two lists: one of those people they can count on, and one of those people whom they suspect will be less than helpful. Then, I suggest they put those lists away somewhere and only take them out a year later. There will be surprises. Promise. Some seemingly dear friends will have let you down, and others have become dear friends, maybe even people whom you barely knew before the troubles began. I will always be grateful to my friends who took me wig shopping or sat by my bed after surgery or took me to the bar at the Ritz a few days before chemo started.

And I remember the very old friend whom I called to tell of my first cancer diagnosis. She didn't have much to say, and I never heard from her again.

You know that I will never be someone who describes the "blessings" of cancer. There aren't any. But there absolutely are some good things that can happen, and new friendships may top that list. I see these relationships evolve between women who meet in the radiation waiting room or sit in the same support group. These ties may last for the rest of our lives.

Our cancer buddies understand us in a way that no one else can. As I prepare to go again tomorrow to beautiful Wonderwell, to begin another retreat for women with advanced cancer, I am thinking a lot about connections. It is predictable: we meet first for lunch, and that meal seems a little awkward, a little stilted as some women know one or two others, and some don't know anyone, and a few know many. After lunch, we will sit in circle for a conversation that may go on for the entire afternoon. It if is cool and damp, as predicted, fires will be burning in the two huge fireplaces that stand at each end of the community room. We will laugh, and we will weep, and sometime during the discussion, the air space will change. I can feel it. We become family.

I will be reporting in over the next few days, but wanted to get this done this evening as tomorrow will be busy with packing and filling the "goodie/party bags" and driving to NH and getting settled. I am so grateful for this opportunity.

And want to share this related article from The New York Times:

Women’s Friendships, in Sickness and in Health


A silver lining in the dark cloud of serious illness — your own or a loved one’s — is the help and caring offered by friends, and the way that help can deepen friendships.

Of the more than 80 women I interviewed recently for a new book about women’s friendships, many spoke with gratitude of friends who came through in such troubling times. One told of a friend who flew from a distant city and stayed for a week while she recovered from surgery. Another described how friends coordinated through a website to drive her to chemo treatments, deliver meals and stay by her side when she wasn’t supposed to be alone. And many said how much it meant when friends kept calling or emailing or texting, even if they didn’t always get a response.

Friendship isn’t just the source of such comfort; it can also be a result. One woman recalled that when her mother became seriously ill, several women with whom she was friendly stepped up to help care for her mother. After her mother died, she realized that her relationships with these women had progressed from friendly to friends. Those friendships were a surprise, and an enduring gift.

Read more:

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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