Last month, Stephanie was diagnosed with Lymphoma. As soon as I heard the news, I wanted to rush to her side. But there was a problem, we weren’t actually friends anymore.
Let me back up.
Stephanie and I were best friends in college. And roommates, too. Some of my best memories of that formidable time in my life were shared with her. It was a typical friendship falling out. She did something that, at the time, hurt me. I moved out. My breakup with Stephanie was somewhat complicated, given the fact that our lives were inextricably woven together through our friends, our sorority and our hangouts. I just wanted to avoid her. It hurt too much to see her. It was the one of the most painful breakups I had in my twenties—and we never dated! But my heart was broken, nonetheless.
Eventually I moved on. Got a new roommate, a new place, but that fracture with her was something that never fully healed. So when I heard about her cancer diagnosis on FaceBook, I immediately sent her a message offering my support and love. It was as if none of that petty nonsense from college mattered. I just wanted her to get better.
As fate would have it, my sister was her nurse for her first day of chemo. I knew she was in good hands. I went out to see Stephanie as soon as she was home from the hospital that weekend.
I’m not going to lie. I was nervous. But the second I walked into her home, all of that anxiety fell by the wayside. It was like no time had passed. I was really, really glad to see her. And yeah, it was kind of awkward at times—with the questions about who I married, my kids she’s never met, and why we split up.
As we sat and talked, Stephanie shared with me that one of the hardest parts about her life right now is how oddly behave when she tells them about the cancer. It makes them instantly uncomfortable—apologizing to her, offering unwanted (and often unintended) pity, and just acting WEIRD.
Stephanie said it was obvious that this response was caused by the person’s reaction to what was happening in his or her own life. It makes people uncomfortable because the reality is it can happen to anyone. If seeing someone as young and vibrant as Stephanie fight off cancer (like a CHAMP, by the way) doesn’t make you take a cold, hard look at your own mortality, I don’t know what will.
The other peculiar thing that I discovered is that our current situations were more similar than one would think. Obviously, I chose the path I am on. I am the one that officially filed to end the marriage. Stephanie in no way caused her cancer. But when I tell people about the split, they react in almost the exact same way. They are uncomfortable, fidgety, apologetic and look at me as if my life is over. For the same reasons Stephanie surmised, I know it makes people examine their own relationships.
Since news of the divorce went public, I have had several well-respected women, from perfect families, with amazing jobs, confide in me that they were miserable in their own marriages and wish that could muster the courage to leave. Nobody is divorce-proof. It can happen to anyone. Just like Stephanie, what I need is love and support—not pity, not sympathy, and certainly not judgement.
I’ll never understand why all of this is happening to Stephanie, but it never ceases to amaze me how perfect God’s timing is. Stephanie and I need each other right now, more than ever. I can’t imagine a better time, or a better person to have in my life. We can encourage and support each other in a way few others can.
Cancer destroys, and even the treatments wipe everything out—but in this case it’s actually healed something: a long-broken friendship. Is know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. And a little perspective goes a hell of a long way.
I love you Stephanie, and I know you’ll pull through this. As we say on Team Steph, FIGHT LIKE A GIRL!