How to Talk to Healthy People as a Lung Cancer Patient?

I was a happy and worry-free girl before I was 13 in China. Then the university was re-opened after 10 years of closure, and entrance exams were very competitive. So I also became one of the competitors and a damned good one.

I've always been competitive

Living in an extremely competitive environment brought up a lot of problems, especially for kids. For me, I had trouble making friends. The competition was fierce in school, and it happened often that kids were hiding things from each other and not working collaboratively. How well kids performed at school, ie, exams, was the only measure of success, and therefore the only criterion of kids choosing friends.

In middle school and high school, the competition was fierce. I remember each midterm and final exam. Students were ranked based on their marks on subjects like math, physics and chemistry, and the total marks. Such ranking was printed in a big sheet and posted on the wall in each classroom. Kids with worse marks were shamed, kids with average marks were charged to get to top 10%, and kids with top 10% marks was nervous to lose their ranks. Anyway, nobody was happy about what they had achieved but always worried about being surpassed by somebody.

It was not unusual for me to be involved in these competitions. I thought I didn’t need friends to validate me. I know what I want to be. I became withdrawn. After I became an adult, I felt something was wrong in terms of building friendships, but I had no time to think about it.

Cancer changed everything

After I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I often looked back to think about what made me ME. I've read online so many articles about the importance of good friends for lung cancer patients. Finding and building friendships are important. There are 3 cornerstones a lung cancer patient can lean on: 1) God, 2) a good oncology team, and 3) friends and family.

New friendships can be hard to come by

I’m not religious, but I believe in God in my way. So that settles God. A good oncology team is doable, and I’m lucky to have my medical teams together with several US doctors that I can do remote consultation.

But finding friends is problematic for me even in a healthy situation. I don’t have many friends. It’s not imaginable for me to have anybody to “lend me a shoulder to cry on”, “go to see the doctor with me, take notes” and “listen quietly to me talk”. First of all, I don’t cry, not mentioning crying on anybody’s shoulder. Crying is very private. Secondly, I can not imagine when I talk to somebody, she just sits there being quiet. Why don’t I talk to the wall? Anyway, having a friend in a conventional sense is not working for me.

I want to have friends though, but the friends have to be able to talk. My friends may have different backgrounds, cultures, degrees or hobbies, but the person should have their own opinion and principles, which may be different from mine. It does not bother me. I always think I expect too much from my friends or I don’t know how to find one. Anyway, I still don't have many close friends besides my husband and my mom.

Extending an invitation

Even so, finding a friend is always on my mind. Last weekend, a friend from Chicago came to visit me. We did our graduate studies together 28 years ago. I hesitated at first but decided to extend an invitation to her for the first time since I was diagnosed. We always got along in graduate school and I told myself that if I’m unable to make a friend with her...then I’m hopeless.

We met and talked about everything in our minds. For the first time, I didn’t need to think about the next topic to talk about. Before she came, I told her briefly about my cancer. When we talked about my cancer I was very comfortable telling her about my experience. She was sincere and enjoyed listening to my stories.

To my surprise, she had a similar experience to mine though she didn’t have cancer. We both were careful not to “open any wounds”, but at the same time, we were candid and honest. Then we were talking a lot about other topics like work, kids, schools, houses, parents, restaurants... We didn’t notice that we talked for 2.5 hours! We talked so much I forgot to ask my friend to have some coffee or tea.

Catching up with an old friend

It was a quite successful catch-up and I enjoyed it. Looking back, the atmosphere of our conversations was pleasant, informative and sometimes serious. At the same time, it was joyful. I probably have not talked about “juicy” stuff like this in years. This is a rare talent that my friend has; she knows what, when, and how to say things. But more importantly, you feel the sincerity from her. Meanwhile, I just have to relax and go with the flow.

I’m thinking maybe there are some new friends for me somewhere, but I have to know how to find them.

How have you made new friends since your lung cancer diagnosis?

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