A woman is surrounded by bubbles containing the silhouettes of her friends

Unforgettable Friendships with Lung Cancer Patients

For so many years, all the people I interacted with had some working relationship with me. I didn't have personal friends, and it didn't bother me. When I had lung cancer, especially after I got involved with different lung cancer advocacy groups, I was drawn to lung cancer patients. It changed my opinion of friendship.

The friends I referred to are all online cancer friends, who can be one of the three groups:

  1. Friends who have passed away
  2. Friends whose lives are in this limbo
  3. Friends who currently are NED (No Evidence of Disease) or stable

Some of these friends have left a long-lasting impression on me even though I haven't met most of them in person.

Friends who are no longer with me

As stage 4 lung cancer patients, we will die earlier than "normal". Inevitably, we are a source of sorrow when that day comes. I still remember that those friends always had something standing out, such as some were very young and had young kids, or the guy was a well-known lung cancer advocate or the person fought extraordinarily hard to survive, or the lady was cheerful by nature... When their time came, there was seldom a warning - just a text on Facebook by the relatives or closed friends on their passing.

In the beginning, I couldn't handle the death of these patients. Although I’m a lung cancer patient and death is always in my mind, people rarely just fade away as smoke disappears. They leave a legacy behind for others to carry. What can people left behind do? Are they happy no more suffering at least? I even cried due to my lung cancer friends' dying.

I felt the excruciated pain at the beginning, but I have become more used to it after so many times. I learned to mourn them and them forge ahead because there is more work to do. I will always enjoy the time we spent on Facebook chatting, but I try to remember that life moves on.

Friends who are very sick

The second group of friends are those in the active treatment and managing the associated side-effect. They can often be in danger. Since the first time I experienced my lung cancer friend's death, I subconsciously knew how seriously their cancer is, as soon as I "meet" this group of lung cancer patients.

These patient's life is in limbo. Some friends don't make it, and others survive. For example, my friend has done four clinical trials, and at the beginning of the current clinical trial, things were not going well. I was sad and prepared I would lose her, but later, a miracle happened. She surely and steadily made progress and I felt so released. In Chinese, we say "a heavy stone that hangs on top of the head, finally fell to the ground". I'm so happy she is doing so well today.

Another example is that my young friend has lung cancer and another type of cancer. The situation is dire, and I was distraught, swearing at cancer's cruelty, and felt helpless. We used to exchange experiences in practicing Chinese soft martial art. Several days ago, I texted her and surprisingly found she is ok and exercises the Chinese martial art again diligently. It made my day and I couldn’t be happier.

The third example is that due to lung cancer, my friend couldn't get out of bed. At the time, she and her oncologist didn't think they could do much. I felt she might not have much time. But later, her oncologist found she had a new oncogene that could be treated by a newly approved drug. She changed to targeted therapy, and she not only got out of bed but also looked after her horses. When I heard about it, I am so happy as if I get a second chance to live.

With these friends, life goes up and down full of unknowns. Their survival stories are exciting and full of encouragement. Each time I heard about them, it always brought me great pleasure. Recently, I notice that more and more such surviving stories. It means rapid development of lung cancer treatments, also the tirelessly self-advocacy by patients.

Friends who are stable or NED

This group of friends are the lucky one among lung cancer patients. They are either NED or their lung cancer is in stable condition. In these two years, I’ve seen more and more patients from this group, as well as the above second group.

I'm moving in the last two groups. For the first three years, I was in the second group, i.e., I was with active treatments, and several times, I was pushed back from death by my doctors. Now I'm in the third group for nearly three years. I'm a survivor.

Friendship forever

I could never imagine making so many friends with cancer patients and the joy I would have from our friendship. It's encouraging that more and more friends are survivors. But more importantly, I’m determined to advocate for lung cancer research for my friends who lost their chance to advocate and for those who struggle for their lives.

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