We all know the opening from this poem, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is you know exactly what to do.” Although it seems to be that many of those relationships deal with the cycle of meeting, becoming close, even falling in love, often some disengage and some leave your life. The reasons seem logical, moving cities, climbing different professional ladders, and then each of us go on our own way. Sometimes we finish relationships from sheer boredom, as if a recording has got stuck and nobody wants to change records. Others stay in the same type of relationships seeking solace in the way they create background music for our life.

The poem I quoted seems callous, people are not disposables even though they may waft in or out from our life. I like the almost Buddhist version that states, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I like to believe when the teacher is done, he too will go on to find another student.

The diagnosis of cancer comes with much heartbreak, then this overpowering need to backtrack your life, dissect each step of the way to see if for some reason you caused it. Later we keep a record of each ache and pain in case it is the dreaded C. It is initially all consuming. Everything feels like a symptom, you expect and wait for the next thing your body will do to betray you. The emotion devastation feels as if we can only go on, if we have something magical to heal us. Remember the bottle of “Drink Me” in Alice in Wonderland. It may feel you want to drink from her bottle to shrink all the pain away. Without taking anything from the horror of cancer treatment, one day a whole day will pass without it reminding you about. That day you know the “Drink me” potion is working.

Years ago I came across a word, which is an encapsulation of how we feel when we are diagnosed with any major disease.

Exulansis: The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it. 

Your spouse, your Mom, long term friends even our boss doesn’t seem to get it. I bet some days you don’t get it either. This is when another type of relationship will evolve. Surprisingly, it is in the waiting rooms, at the chemotherapy area and after surgery when we have questions, feel isolated; these odd bonds bring people together. These cross all social, cultural and age groups. This will be when you make treatment friends. Going to groups, having friends who have gone through it and newbies who have just been diagnosed is a wonderful way to explore your feelings. They may be the master, you the student or another you will be master again, as the cycle of visits goes around.

Some will stay for a while or others may never leave your life, sometimes a SMS to mark another clear round of tests is the only contact. Between all the different people in your life each has a role; they will identify it, and then help you negotiate the way through it. These treatment buddies are important because they too hold you through your journey. They don’t make spaniel eyes of concern when they ask how you are doing. They get the love-hate relationship you have with your wig. Those friends are all fine with you wanting to talk about everything foreign like the eyebrow makeup running down the face, because it is hot and you get those blasted flushes. For a while they become like a small surrogate family. They make being able to cope better, this allows you to focus on your family, without having emotional meltdown about things your family doesn’t get. A phone call away, yet far down the road to see wobble as what it is; either minor or major or catastrophe, but not the end of the world.

The weekend of the 25th of October, I watched vicariously as people ventured out to support the breast health walk. I remember the small groups who started it all those years ago; they were determined to change the way breast cancer awareness was seen in a concrete manner. When I looked on Facebook and Instagram, the photos of triumphant women with their smiling faces as they bustled around made my heart soar. Some were old friends, others new to the experience – all of them with a growing sense of togetherness. It was beyond beautiful; but these living/loving photos transcended an old master painting by far. A living breathing monument to the type of relationship I want to celebrate this month. For those who were there I salute how far you have gone. I don’t really like group activities, this group may be my one exception.


Rev. Doctor Gereth Edwards was a practicing plastic surgeon, co-founder of the Netcare Milpark Hospital - Breast Care Centre of Excellence and the Breast Health Foundation. He then refocused his life and qualified as a minister. He writes from both a scientific and humanities view.

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