22: Rekindling the Inner Spirit

22: Rekindling the Inner Spirit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Rekindling the Inner Spirit

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

~Albert Schweitzer

I’ve had plenty of close friends throughout my life, but I always felt like I was missing that one big friendship that so many other women seem to have. As an only child, I had always longed for a sister. As an adult, all I wanted was a true best friend to fill that void.

When I was thirty-two, I was living my dream as a stay-at-home mom when the world came crashing down around me. On a Tuesday afternoon in May of 2009 I was diagnosed with stage two invasive breast cancer. My days of play dates, trips to the zoo, and lazy mornings at home with my twenty-one-month-old son turned into doctor’s appointments, terrifying body scans and a whole lot of uncertainty.

In the months that followed I learned quite a bit about the people in my life, both friends and family members, some for better and some for worse. Over the course of eight months I had a unilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, six cycles of intensive chemotherapy and twenty-eight rounds of radiation. While the pain and side effects were almost unbearable, the fear and anxiety that developed was even worse. My husband and parents were an amazing support system but they couldn’t understand what I was going through both physically and emotionally, nor could I expect them to. Plus, I wanted to be strong for them so they could in turn be strong for my son. I never missed having a sister more than I did during that time.

Eventually I found myself wishing for a “cancer friend” so that I could relate to someone who knew what I was going through. I would sit at chemo and look around the room, trying to find someone to befriend. I met some wonderful people, but everyone was always much older than me so I never connected with anyone.

I found what I needed in the most unlikely of places. When I finished chemo, I decided to enroll my son in preschool. It was the middle of the school year when he started, so many of the parents already seemed to know each other. I was still wearing my headscarf and knew it was obvious I was in the middle of cancer treatment, so I basically kept to myself. After a few weeks one of the moms from class approached me in the parking lot and asked me if I was in treatment. She told me that she was a recent lymphoma survivor and we made plans to meet for coffee the next day. That day I drove home from preschool giddy, suddenly feeling the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. A simple five-minute conversation in a parking lot and I wasn’t alone anymore. No longer was I the “freak” I felt I was.

Leah and I hit it off right away, and of course it didn’t hurt that our sons were exactly the same age. My husband joked in the beginning that I was too eager but I think the feeling was mutual. I started to find myself again through this new friendship and it was a relief. Since then, Leah and I have become the closest of friends.

One day not too long ago, two different people e-mailed me separately, each asking me to reach out to someone they knew who was thirty and had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sure enough, even though they didn’t know each other in any way, it turned out they were both talking about the same woman. I knew that day we were meant to be friends. Vicky has been a welcome addition to the friendship that Leah and I have built over the past few years. And in a short time the three of us have truly become sisters. I feel incredibly lucky that I now have friends who understand the new me. It is an unexpected gift in the wake of such adversity.

Leah, Vicky, and I sometimes compare our situation to having been to war. We went to battle for our lives and we share a bond that people who haven’t been there could never understand. We will never be the same for the things we experienced, but I’ll admit we did get something wonderful out of it. Not only do I have the best friend and sister I hoped for so long ago — I have two. And although we can’t predict the future, we have each other. Which, after all we’ve been through, is not too shabby. And the three of us are planning to be friends for another fifty years.

~Lauren Magliaro

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