Friday, January 13, 2017

Surviving College with Cancer- The Friends Edition

I remember my 2nd class ever of college- English Comp 1.  It took me a long time to walk from Calculus 1 to Comp 1, so I was late, and had the seat nearest the door and the front.  The teacher opened with one of the "everyone introduce yourself and say something interesting" things.  I gave my name, high school, and some random stuff and stopped.  And she kept looking at me, like she knew there was something more I had to say.  Then bald little me blurted out "And I just beat cancer". And someone on the other end of the classroom started clapping, and soon everyone was clapping.  And in that moment, I felt accepted into that class.  I'm still friends with two people from that class, and close friends with a third.
So this post is for you, friends of the person in college with cancer.  Maybe you knew your cancer friend before they had cancer, or maybe you met them bald in college. Either way, we are a unique group of students, and I hope you'll take the time to read how you can help us survive the college journey together with you.

Helen Keller said, "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."

Celebrate us. We've been through hell.  We deserve to be treated well.  One friend surprised me at Bible study with cupcakes and balloons for my 2 year BMT birthday. Another included me for a special snow globe photo event. One friend wrote a card that simply said she noticed how hard I worked and how cheerful I tried to be, and included a candy bar.  Simple, random acts of kindness.

Encourage us. College is hard for everyone.  Imagine yourself in your normal level of stress and work, and then think about how you would feel if you also had trouble breathing, were tired all the time, your bones hurt, the weather gave you a bad cough, you had to take 3 hours out of your busy schedule to go to the doctor every week, you had trouble remembering things or processing classes, and you were trying desperately not to get the cold literally the entire college has.  That's a little bit of what we go through. We want to keep up with you, academically and socially, but we can't.  We need to take less classes every semester.  We can't go to all the social events that you go to.  Our bodies don't have the strength or energy to last as long as you can.  We can't pull all-nighters, so let's all do our homework together earlier.  Encourage us by letting us know you saw how hard we worked for that decent grade, or by letting us know that you appreciate the effort we made on the group project.

Protect us.  Our bodies have taken a beating.  Help us out.  I know you may be a super-fit individual, who has no trouble making it up two flights of stairs.  But I'm not. My lungs only work at 40%, and my heart is also borderline abnormal function.  I'll never forget the day when I entered the building with my friends, and one of them immediately pushed the elevator button.  I had expected all of them to go up the stairs, but that small act of riding the elevator with me is forever seared in my memory. If it's cold, offer to bring us food so we don't have to go out in the weather.  Offer to get books from our cars or lockers. Offer to carry them.  We have pride, and may not let you carry them everytime, but please still ask.  I promise you, we appreciate it more than you'll ever know.

Tease us. If any of my friends read this, please don't take this as an invitation to tease me more! But don't treat us like glass.  We want to be included.  I do get miffed when the guys won't stop teasing me. But then I remember that's because they've included me.  They're accepting that I'm their equal, and I'm grateful for that.

Miss us.  I remember the semester that I missed half the classes because of the hemolytic anemia.  The first time I wasn't at class (without prior notice), I had slept in because the steroids had hit in full force.  Two minutes after the scheduled class time, my phone was blowing up with texts from my concerned classmates, on why I wasn't in my usual spot.  I was blown away by the care these lovely girls showed me.  In so many classes since, just a simple text to make sure I was ok when I wasn't in class has shown how much my classmates truly care.  Texting takes just a few moments- use those moments to show that you missed your friend, and noticed their absence.

Choose us. Maybe we aren't the sharpest anymore. And we're going to miss group meetings because we're sick or doctor appointments.  And maybe you don't think we're going to pull our weight.  Guess what? We know this too.  And we feel terrible about it.  But please pick us.  Don't wait till everyone else is on a team.  Choose us first. We already feel like we aren't going to be able to contribute 100% to your team.  Don't make us feel even worse by being the last one picked.  And you know what- we just might surprise you.  Yes we may be a little slow, but we're not stupid.  We still know things that can help you.  We'll do our research before the team meeting.  We've learned what it is to face insurmountable odds- a tough homework isn't going to faze us!

Hear us.  We're a tough lot.  We're not gonna go around begging for favors or complaining.  We won't let you know when we've had enough.  Remember, we get tired much sooner than you.  Watch if we go sit by ourselves in a corner after a little while.  Perhaps we're not eating as much as everyone.  We're getting tired.  We need to work on telling you, but we're trying to hold on to what little pride and dignity we have left.  We don't want to cut short on your fun.  So please suggest we go home. Or go somewhere quiet.

Love us. We need a little extra TLC. But we are still humans. We are still your classmates. And we are fighting like crazy to finish college with you.  Please try to understand that, and take a few minutes out of your day to remember and encourage us.  Thanks for being part of our lives.

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