Women Supporting Women, There's Nothing Better

If you have one true friend you have more than your share.
— Thomas Fuller

I have struggled writing this blog, finding it impossible to finish a thought without tears welling up and at times, completely incapable of writing. I have a catalog of strong emotions when I think about my girlfriends and what they have given to me. We know that a single event cannot only shape your life, but illuminate it. Being told I have pancreatic cancer did both of these for me. I consider myself to be fairly independent and don’t like to ask for help. It’s not about being weak, rather that I don’t want to be an inconvenience. This disease has taught me a lot about asking for help and the significant role my girlfriends have played in this.

About two years into my treatment I felt very alone with my muddled thoughts at the forefront of everything I did. I could not imagine a darker moment, after having experienced every unimaginable side effect – including collapsing in public restrooms after giving myself injections only to have a violent reaction, or being carried out of public functions as a result of crumbling to the floor, unable to breathe or move my body. Ports, pick lines, paddles to start my heart – these were normal occurrences in my new normal.

Everyday things I took for granted before my diagnosis that were performed with energy, enthusiasm and often with little effort, were now overwhelming. My road to recovery was not a straightforward path, in fact there was nothing encouraging about it at all. My mood was gloomy and it was difficult to fathom that every day was going to be like the last, where I just existed. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced and I desperately missed the healthy, energizer bunny that I had known myself to be. There was a consuming emphasis on the inability to control anything and the bleakness of the long days was excruciating. There were many misplaced, mad and messy moments; it was not a pretty picture! I thought I had exhausted my allotted ability to heal or feel any joy; no amount of retouching could restore my usual enthusiasm. My canvas was beyond repair. 

However, beautiful colors, shapes and images were starting to appear as I experienced (certainly not for the first time) this incredible life force that comes from a 'girlfriend.' 

 My girlfriends in Aspen had this amazing quilt made for me while I was on chemo.

My girlfriends in Aspen had this amazing quilt made for me while I was on chemo.

Girlfriends. No two are the same but we look to them all for the same things: companionship, trust, support and for someone to make you laugh when all you can think to do is cry. Not having a close relationship with my mother, my female friendships replenished me and have provided the core of what I have wanted in adulthood - connection, shared sensibilities, a place to feel safe and to be heard. These relationships have played a different role from my marriages and will be as emotionally central and foundational now, more than ever, living my life as a single woman.

A close friendship allows you a pocket of peace away from the world. Everyone is vulnerable. I’ve had plenty of times when I feel safe and calm and confident, even knowing the subject between us is something troubling or wonderful. Sometimes, what seems to matter most is the fact that we are here together, one of telling all, and the other one effortlessly patient, receptive and interested. I can’t tell you how much I value and respect my girlfriends for giving me this space and a part of their heart and soul.

Not all of us have had a good blueprint for how to integrate the contemporary intimacies of female friendship and of marriage into one life. I think today we have so much competition with children, careers and a never-ending kaleidoscope of interests playing a competitively absorbing role in our emotional and intellectual life. I am sure my mother had wonderful female relationships but honestly I have blocked out so much of my turbulent, toxic, dysfunctional childhood that I don’t remember. She was a wild stallion and I could not look to her or any other family member or friend as a role model.

No friendship is fallout-free and there are plenty of lessons to be learned from these heartbreaking experiences. We have all been there. It’s never straightforward. Our friendships with women are important and complex; they’re something we invest time in and work hard to maintain. They require nurturing, which begins with having a friendship-focused mindset and intentions which extend to our daily priorities, choices, and interactions. The success or failure of friendships depends on our level of mindfulness.

I have been blessed with the outpouring of loving, mindful friendships; their expressions of generosity showing up in innumerable ways really defy description. Flying from all over the country to be with me when I was on chemo (and after), gifts and experiences that express significance in the times we have spent together, meaningful acts of kindness that goes beyond the imagination in thoughtfulness, creativity and generosity. The very act of just being with me – the gift of time and giving of themselves – nurturing, caring, understanding, honest, authentic, supportive, trusting and loving.

I read an article about the Mind-Body Connection; the relationship between stress and disease written by the head of psychiatry at Stanford. Here's an excerpt:

One of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman, whereas for a woman, one of the best things for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.

Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences.  Physically this quality “girlfriend time” helps us to create more serotonin, which helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well being.

Spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out.  Failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking!

I have girlfriends who are brilliant at this, nurturing “girlfriend time” which has really been the bedrock of my life. Women Sisterhood! Whenever my life became unbearable, frightening, dreadful, it was the women who empowered me. What I learned is that we bond with each other in times of crisis. When we go through these big touchstone moments that are really important, pivotal, and transitional, it is critical to recognize how lucky are we to have girlfriends who allow us to be transparent and vulnerable, sharing our deepest confidences. Oh, and my canvas has been pretty ugly at times! Your steadfast support has empowered me to be the woman I am today.

And let’s not forget the fun factor! I received the book “Why Limit Happy to an Hour?” and that has definitely been our prescription at times! I believe this expression is so true -  “Good friends are the rare jewels of life; difficult to find and impossible to replace.” Times filled with gales of laughter, heart stopping encounters, zaniness, goofy, silly, outrageous and hilarious experiences that elevated us to the stage of believing we were clever, entertaining, silly and smart and well, maybe we were not! These unabashed moments are priceless for me. Loving friendships will nourish and enrich your life as you age. They're worth taking seriously.

The thing with friends when you get older — I mean this is not anything I haven’t written about — is they can’t be replaced. 
— Nora Ephron

To my girlfriends, I hope you know that you can’t be replaced. Your friendship has filled me up with observations, flavors and memories that make every day worth living. The length of time we have known each other does not qualify the love and appreciation I have for you. Enormous affection, dizzying heights of fun and laughter, smart, thoughtful, and thought provoking discussions bind us. Our shared experiences, magical moments that can never be again, and yet new adventures to look forward to, warm my heart with great anticipation of the exquisite adventures ahead!

The only way to have a friend is to be one.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson