Here’s one of those unexpected consequences of cancer: It’s made me a much better friend to those in my life who are struggling with significant troubles of their own.
I have, for instance, two close friends are struggling with tricky family problems right now; a third who is dealing with some very frustrating work issues, and a fourth who has been diagnosed with an incurable and potentially life-changing illness. Just this past week, I’ve had intense conversations with all four of these people that focused as much on their issues as on mine.
Talking with them about their various problems helps me in several respects. It distracts me from my own issues. It reminds me that other people have problems, too, and keeps me from veering into self-pity. It also makes sure that our conversations are not just all about me, me, me and my medical travails. After all, they have lots to talk about, too, and I’m genuinely interested — truth be told, I LOVE trying to problem-solving other people’s lives.
I also think that having a cancer-stricken friend helps them put their own problems in perspective, and in at least one case, has encouraged the person to open up a lot more. For some people, I think, it can be hard to confide problems to someone whose life is going well — but when you both have serious problems, there’s a sense of shared empathy. It creates a much more balanced relationship, and there’s less worry about burdening the other person. Rather, there’s a sense that we’re both going through a hard time, but we have each other’s back.