Friday, April 30, 2010

the problem with fear or - you can run but you can't hide

this week i felt the fall-out from "the black plague" effect of having cancer.

one of my oldest friends in new york city just ditched me when he heard i had cancer. rather, he sent a one line email. and then nothing more. this is a friend i used to call when my kids were little and i was broke and he'd show up with cash. or he'd come over to my apartment with his laundry and hang out with me while he did it in our big machines.

i loved him. the amazons adored him.

he was the person i walked the street with - along with my kids - on september 11, 2001. that day, i ended up walking the streets trying to locate my kids and then trying to get them somewhere safe, from 8am to 10pm, wearing a t-shirt with wonder woman on it and the omnious line, "you can run, but you can't hide." i never wore that shirt again.

my friend was someone i'd thought of as a part of my family.

though he'd been travelling a lot of late, i'd see his byline whenever he was in new york city. and i just assumed that we were still close, just out of touch a bit.

it turns out i was wrong.

i think the problem with cancer is that - for some people - it's just too big. too overwhelming of a burden. it makes you feel so powerless and ineffective, your instinctive reaction is to hide your head in the sand and pretend you don't see it. pretend you don't really know. just close your eyes tight and hope everything will be ok. and then just cut it out of your life.

just a day ago, a once-upon-a-time-friend - an old colleague of mine in new york city - met one of my friends who was visiting from abroad. they discovered they had me in common.

the once-friend, now colleague said to my out-of-town friend, "you do know that ameena is not well. she is very VERY sick." the colleague said this with the weight of finality.

i should add that while absolute strangers are sending me notes of encouragement on facebook and twitter, this colleague has also managed to avoid me for the past year. i haven't heard a word from her. and we were once friends.

my out-of-town friend said, "actually, she's cancer-free and feeling really good."

my colleague said, "well, is anyone REALLY cancer-free?"

my friend assured her that i was drinking kale juice and eating cruciferous vegetables in huge quantities so she wasn't worried.

and the colleague, not one to give up on her doom and gloom so easily, told my friend, "well... do you know ameena's a muslim?"

when your own life is complex and difficult, it's hard not to drop your friends into the black hole of non-existence when they start slipping.

i know i've lost touch with friends when their problems seemed to engulf my own.

so here's my advice - cancer does NOT equal death.

it's not contagious.

it's not insurmountable.

when someone is in the throes of chemo or radiation, even the smallest bit of help is so useful as to be magnified ten times. especially if you arrive unexpectedly when you're most needed.

even a kind note or an email or a phone call.

you don't have to show up every single day or be there every moment. because then you risk resenting the person you are trying to help. (and you might question your own motives).

and no one wants to feel like a burden or a chore either.

be a light. a sudden flash of love or energy.

make someone laugh for an hour or even 20 minutes.

not least because, if we don't manage to fix the multitude of ways we've made our world of balance, cancer is likely to hit closer to home next time.

learn how to handle it with grace at a distance

and you'll approach it with wisdom and intelligence if it comes nearer.


  1. and exactly WHAT did said colleague mean by "and do you know Ameena's a muslim"? I found this statement infuriating. I'm sorry that good, close friends have taken the lower road. I think you know that they are full of fear - but I am not here to excuse them. I am here to commend you. You have been a pillar of strength, creativity and hope while you BATTLED (please note the past tense) cancer. And no one writes your destiny except God.

  2. Ameena, my family is FILLED with 20 year cancer survivors ! We have a strong family history of the illness and an even stronger family history of beating it hollow. So your attitude is brilliant and an essential part of getting better. But not everyone has your inner strength and probably your friend is one of those people who is actually scared on the inside and cant cope.

    You are an inspiration to so many. Just keep your positive energy strong and stay firm on your path no matter what.

  3. Er ... "well... do you know ameena's a muslim?" means wha??? exactly. That person sounds a bit addled.

    Haven't seen you for some weeks ... let's make it happen again! What's your month like?

    :) xxpritha