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On Friendship - by Deborah Mecklinger

I can’t imagine what it would feel like to receive "THE" call – the call where your world stops, your head spins and time stands still – the call that tells you "it’s cancer." I can only imagine that nothing is the same after that. There must be life before the "diagnosis" and life after.

If receiving a cancer diagnosis is anything like being hit head on by a Mack truck, being the best friend of someone diagnosed is like being rear-ended or side swiped. That is what it was like for me. When my very dearest friend in the world called to tell me she had breast cancer, our world as soul sisters was forever altered. Friendship, fear, faith and the future were only some of the words that would never sound the same again.

I knew right then and there, that I needed to learn how to be a friend to someone that had just been catapulted to a strange, foreign and very scary land. Our friendship would need to transcend all that we knew and all that was familiar as we time traveled together to hell and back.

Daily phone calls to compare fashion faux pas, retail therapy, fat updates and news about our kids would quickly change to conversations about mastectomies, chemotherapy and life or death. Was I brave enough to be there to have these conversations? Would I have the staying power to remain in the moment and not change the subject when the going got tough and the tears flowed?

My best friend and I had our very first sleep over party at the hospital the night of her surgery - to remove her breast. We had talked for years about a sleepover party at a decadent or swanky hotel – a special girls night out. We never got there. Instead, we spent the time crying and laughing our way into the wee hours of the morning. I remember the visceral and emotional pain my friend experienced that night and I remember crying and laughing together. While I will never forget the pain my friend experienced – what stands out is the laughter we shared that unforgettable night. As my friend held her sides, begging me to stop making her laugh - because it hurt so damn much – I knew right then and there that our friendship was even more magical than I had ever imagined. Moreover, I knew how lucky I was to have someone in my life laugh who could find her way to laughter even in the depths of despair.

The next week, instead of meeting at our local haunt for lunch, we met at a bra boutique for the prosthesis fitting. Wow, our shopping adventures had certainly changed. We never imagined this to be a stop on retail row. The topic was cup size – should the new breast be a small C or a perky B? As we munched on Greek salad and sipped our soup, we still managed to generate sidesplitting laughter. As my brave friend looked at her post surgery naked body in the mirror, I too forced myself to look at her for the first time since her surgery. Our eyes met in the mirror. It is a moment I will never forget.

We dealt with the fashion challenges in a way one might call The Vogue Special Olympics and the emotional and physical obstacles with Camp David like summits. We were open, brutally honest, and let each other know what we needed.

As my heroine’s hair fell out, while we held hands as her head was shaved, through a subsequent surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and yet again – another surgery, we continued to cry, laugh, talk, hold each other and through it all love one and other.

We have since celebrated good health, recovery, life, friendship and the knowledge that "it doesn’t get better than this." While I began my leg of the journey wondering how to be a "good enough friend" I learned by example as I followed my soul sister as she led the way.


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© 2023 Deborah Mecklinger LL.B., M.S.W