Cancer at 34 Part 3: Family and Friends

Shortly before I started to write this piece, my ex-girlfriend Leah said this about my ordeal:

“No one can walk this path but you, but you are never alone.”

Just writing that down now causes my whole heart to swell with emotion. My treatment hasn’t even started yet, but many people have already stepped up to help in ways both big and small. This blog post acknowledges what they’ve already done and will do in the future. I am very lucky to be loved by so many people who will help carry me through this.

First, of course I want to thank my family, including my mother Mary, father Steve, and uncle Dave. They support me when I am angry and pick fights at inappropriate times. Mom and dad have literally been my voice when I couldn’t speak because of my vocal cord paralysis. They drive me to wherever I need to go. They wait at my bedside while I recover from surgeries and will support me through my radiation and treatment. My dad especially has been very gung-ho about fighting the cancer ever from the start, and he stayed strong even when I was feeling discouraged. Uncle David kept me company as the bad news rolled in and rejoiced when the good news replaced it.

Leah has also been an invaluable ally, especially since she was under no obligation to get involved. Of course, my parents love me unconditionally, but she also been unbelievably compassionate and supportive. I wrote her long, emotional emails every day during the early period of uncertainty when I didn’t know how this was going to play out. She spent hours on the phone at night texting me. We were very close for about 18 months so it felt easier to talk to her about difficult subjects, especially before I could mobilize other support systems. Leah put our history aside and threw herself into the breach. I couldn’t image discussing some of these things with anyone else. She pushed me to have difficult conversations, validated my emotions, and provided frank and funny advice. I don’t know if I can ever repay her kindness.

I was also very fortunate (I’ll return to the theme of serendipity in my next blog post) to reconnect with Amanda Kothe. We worked together briefly at Joseph Beth Booksellers in early 2016. We chatted on the job together but never really socialized until I moved back to Cincinnati. By chance (!?), we ran into each other at a concert at Arnold’s downtown, but it took me a second to remember how we knew each other. Even before this whole ordeal started, she formed the foundation of my revitalized social network in Cincinnati and introduced me to all sorts of new people and events. Amanda has also been excellent company and a caring “bro” since this started. She gave me books, legal advice, rides in her car, and a respite from all the anxiety.

Rev. Mitra Jafarzadeh at St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church has also been a valuable supporter. I’d been attending St. John’s for a few months before all this began, and Rev. Mitra leapt to into the fray. We talked for several hours in person, over the phone, and by text. She visited on short notice to support me during what I thought would be a difficult conversation at home. She has also provided great advice, such as “be real and trust in my family’s love for me.” She also has a wonderful way with words (which still bring tears to my eyes), such as when she reacted to the news that my cancer was treatable: “Today, the sun rose, the snow fell, and everything looked different.” Rev. Mitra has offered prayers of joy and sorrow on my behalf during worship services. Members of the congregation have also reached out and have welcomed my entire family, including my uncle Dave and aunt Myra. It is a wonderful community.

In recent weeks and months, I have also had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, as well as former coworkers and colleagues from graduate school. Too numerous to list, they have also provided essential advice and reassurance.

Before this all began, I never thought of myself as a particularly social person. Until recently, I had been content to let relationships wither. It’s still early in the process but it is incredibly comforting to have so many people on whom I can count for love and support. As Rev. Mitra said, “It’s the quality of engagement people have with the world, not our bank account or accolades, that matters.”

On the other hand, I don’t want to take them for granted. I’m not a particularly religious person, but this excerpt from the “Peace Prayer of Saint Francis,” which Leah shared with me, really resonates:

“O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive…”

It isn’t all about me – I hope I can remember to give as much love, if not more, than I have received by the time all of this is done. I won’t walk this path alone, and nobody else deserves to either.

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