A Cancerous Friendship or My Friendship With Cancer?

 

 

Friendship is one of life’s great rewards, however in todays online culture this can sometimes be confusing when you consider that the concept of a friend is scattered across so many settings. Which begs me to question have we become more fickle? I mean it’s quite easy to simply Unfollow someone if they post something unsavory or not to your palate, or perhaps just as easy to unlike someone who we once eagerly and impulsively decided we were going to ‘like’ on Facebook. Has this simple click of a button become a catalyst for simply dropping friends in real life just as easily as you can on social media?

 

For centuries we have considered love at first sight or instant connection a guide for investing in friendships and intimacy, however these investments have just as easily turned sour in our modern day friendships too. So what is friendship anyway? According to Psychologists, friendships can enrich our lives to varying degrees. There are of course varying degrees of enrichment, from mutual assistance, companionship, intimacy, affection, dependancy as well as some who seek socio economic goals in their friendships.

 

Aristotle characterized friends into three distinct categories: Utility, Pleasure and Virtue.

Those that engage in mutual pleasure-driven friendships can be described as the friend you go to parties with, see concerts with and generally have good conversations and laugh with. On the other hand friendships of utility offer more of a tangible advantage, this is mutually exchanged and is often done to gain social standing, business or perhaps a political interest. This could be the friend who gets you invited to parties on big boats, or perhaps charity events where you can rub shoulders with hard toned bodies holding Channel handbags. These advantageous friendships can at times be sought out by many and owe their durability to the amount of invitations they get.

 

Of the three categories I hold the virtuous friend in the highest regard as that friendship is based on the type of person that he or she is, not what they have to offer or how many fun times you can have. When Aristotle spoke of virtue I believe he referred to ethics, not in the oft thought stuffy formal sense.

 

The greatest gift a friend can give is their time. No implication here to spend vast amounts of time with a single person but rather the quality of that time spent. No matter if that time is short or infrequent our time is a most generous gift. We all value it and often cling to it and more commonly lament about where it went. My longstanding friends, some interstate and overseas that I unfortunately don’t spend much ‘time’ with anymore are what I know to be virtuous, I have a special soul connection with these friends. An anima cara – soul friends.

 

We have all heard of the term friendship vampire, those that suck us of our energy and take what they can. Sometimes what is taken is not tangible, we can be sucked into unrelenting emotional guidance, take on a barrage of complaints and negativity, be burdened by an individuals harshness or self interest or wasted hours on relationship dramas and gossip which have all drained me of my energy, my spirit, my mind and health and in turn has drawn me away from my anima cara.

 

 

I grew up in a large family with 2 brothers and 3 sisters so my friendships had been established early on mainly within my own family setting. Often times when one of us would invite an ‘outsider’ or ‘friend’ to our home, it was a mutual understanding that this person was a guest to be treated respectfully and in kind, not someone who we would fall on the sword for, as they were not of our blood line.

 

Growing up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne I spent many of my teenage years using my fake ID from Indooroopolly and heavy eyeliner to get into nightclubs like The Underground, Inflation and others too long ago to recall. Would I leave a cousin or friend to throw up in a filthy toilet cubicle after downing too many ‘Cock sucking cowboys’? Never.

Holding a friend’s hair back in a neat ponytail was an honorable duty. This was not what Aristotle had in mind when he spoke of virtue however you get the idea. It’s about owning a strong sense of Bushido, the honor of standing by someone in good times and in bad- Hospital bed or dance floor.

 

In light of a life changing diagnosis such as cancer the friendships I choose to invest in matter considerably more and more. When faced with thoughts on ones own mortality and how I had been accustomed to considering life through my own lens, the aperture quickly sharpened. The new viewfinder and understanding through introspection has made my picture much more clear and focused. I have tried to peel back the veil and see my life for what it is. It is a simple daily practice at living or more aptly the inevitable- a practice in death.

 

Socrates was convinced of the immortality of the soul, but for most mere mortals we become preoccupied with our life right now, and there is no dress rehearsal. A practice of contemplation and gratitude is what I need right now.

 

Perhaps this strong connection to virtue and family is why I have been comfortable to walk alone or share the footpath with companions at varying stages of my life.

 

Yes, I too have unfollowed friends at different moments of growth in my personal life, some friendships may perhaps flourish again, others will remain like the Goyte song; ‘Someone that I used to know’.

 

 

 

 

 

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A pain in the body

I’ve been prodded, pricked, jabbed, slashed, drugged, scanned, reclined, made to sit, told to stand, told to hold my breath, exhale, had my breast tissue and muscle expanded, biopsied, given fluid samples, lost hair, lost sleep, lost my physical strength, told to roll over, shot up radioactive dye, made to wait, made to wait some more and paid a stack of medical fees and have always said thank you with a smile.

It’s no secret that I’ve never been a fitness enthusiast. I’d describe myself as more of a sensory enthusiast. It’s never been about the running or in my case now more fast walking than anything else, it’s always been more about the experience. That warm feeling of the sun touching me on my shoulders, the trees swaying in the breeze and the smell of the ocean is what motivates me and inspires. This is going to sound a little peculiar but from an early age I was convinced that the trees were waving their branches and saying hello whenever they would sway in the breeze. For me this is the kind of stuff that magic is made from, it can transform a person more than any weight bearing exercise.

You see I’ve been training my whole life, not in the must get my body fit kind of training but a different kind of grass roots training- the school of life. I’m pretty sure this schooling begun way before I formally entered the classroom. Which reminds me that on my very first day of primary school I decided to skip class, why I thought this would be a good idea I don’t recall. I timed it right and quietly exited the classroom and hid in the sand pit. I made a bunker out of bins, scrap wood and corrugated iron- this was 1978 and there was no such thing as playground risk and safety assessments. I was much more interested in having sand running through my fingers, feeling it build up in my shoes, under my toes and listen to the magpies singing. I believe a search party was sent out to scour the school playground and after an hour or so I was found. I soon realised that life could be an adventure just not always on my terms.

I was raised in a mostly extroverted big Italian family with at times dysfunctional parenting. I am the youngest of six children – I like to think of it as a social experiment, a bit like living in the Big Brother House. My father had a dose of mental illness, a penchant for gambling and an incredible drink driving skill. He would often drink drive whilst belting out  Neopolitan songs by Caruso or Mario Lanza with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand on a ‘king brown’ (which is 750Mls of beer in a brown bottle). Meanwhile 6 kids would be rolling around the back of the Valiant without seat belts of course.

I’m guessing that life is basically one big lesson, some lessons take longer to grasp and realise than others. I, like many of us have had my share of trials and events that have been confronting and have demanded a fair amount of calculated resolve.  I say calculated resolve because for some reason in times of great stress, anxiety or life change I have tended to push away any emotional fog that may be waiting in the wings and have always tended to look for a way forward. It’s like a kind of temporary system shut down that allows me to reflect, reboot, start up again and move forward in a positive direction.

What makes a person resilient? Is it environmental or is it innate? Wherever these buckets of positivity have come from I am very grateful for the big gulps I’ve been able to take.  Which brings me back to the idea of life as a lesson, a curriculum that you must complete and at times feel like you must endure. The bizarre thing about this particular lesson that I’m currently undertaking is that it feels vaguely familiar. Yes, I said familiar.

No I’ve never had breast cancer before but I think I have been priming myself for this very moment. Perhaps I chose this very existence and that explains why I feel so ready and capable. Often I think that I’m just living in this body, a temporary rental. I particularly like the idea that my ‘essence’ is the real me – not this pain body.  Perhaps this idea of detachment from the physicality of what my body has had to endure is what has kept me positive and protected.  My body hurts, it is tired and worn down but my essence is still very vibrant and inspired. On the morning of my first chemotherapy, I remember walking through the sliding glass doors of the hospital with a very familiar feeling. I took big confident strides in my pumps, passed the receptionist with a knowing nod and a smile and made my way up the escalator. I had a spring in my step all the while thinking…I’ve got this, I’ve done this before.

So for all the jabbing, slashing and drugging I’ve endured in the past year I have another surgery ahead of me. Two days to be precise. It’s a breast reconstruction.  A DIEP flap procedure that involves microsurgery that aims to transplant living fat tissue from my well fed stomach reserves into my breast. It’s a 6-8 hour procedure.

I’m not worried about the surgery as I’ll be checking the surgeon’s breath for signs of alcohol before the procedure. If he doesn’t look shaky, have blood shot eyes or is unshaven I’m guessing that I’ll be in great hands.

This is just my body that has to endure this, not me.