Photo by Disney
I recently watched Inside Out. I know I’m a little late to the game here but luckily, chemo is helping me make up for a lifetime of never prioritizing cinema. This movie was so beautifully done and I loved watching the dynamics of the characters, especially since some of them are emotions. I proceeded to gush nonstop about it for days to various girlfriends. They shared who they resonated with and one friend sent me the above photo, it made me laugh. We talked a lot about the dynamics of friendships and ultimately concluded that in all relationships – there are givers and receivers and this constant balance of the two provides for a healthy friendship (and relationship).
In life, I relate the most to “Joy” (the one on the left in the green dress). She is super positive, sometimes annoyingly so, but is a go-getter and always sees the glass as half-full. For most of my adult life, I’ve always been this way (although recent events have me ricochetting between feeling like the blue “Sadness” one on the right). This innate positive outlook really came in handy when I was diagnosed with cancer. Going through something like this makes me value all my relationships even more. I think this happens for everyone going through cancer at some point in their journey. You become that much closer with your best friends because your friendships take on new levels of depth. You show them your most vulnerable self and in turn, they reveal sides of them you never had a chance to see either. You’ll have old friends come back into your life and people you thought never gave two hoots prove themselves to be incredibly caring in a situation like this. On the flip side, people will come out of the woodworks. You’ll hear from your old college roommate’s cousin’s dog walker, or that girl from middle school who was always really mean to you. You’ll have friends that you socialized with all the time, or thought you were close to completely disappear. The latter situation doesn’t upset me though because ultimately – you learn who really cares about you. This is something extremely valuable at an age where it becomes that much more important to spend what little free time we have with people who are truly worthwhile. The biggest lesson emphasized through getting cancer is that life is too short to waste on people who don’t add value to you.
Circling back to maintaining balanced friend/relationships – Mastering the Art of Giving and Receiving.
In my friendships, I tend to be a much better giver. A big part is because I happened to stumble upon some truly solid gal pals in my early 20s, absolutely amazing women that showed and taught me what it means to be a great friend. This heightened my desire to give to a friendship – to listen, help, and curate experiences. For me, one of the hardest things about dealing with cancer has been the fact that it is forcing me to learn to ask for help and be a receiver. I’m still awful at it and at the beginning, asking for (well, more like finally saying okay to) my friends to help me look after my apartment and get my mail/things made me feel so embarrassed and uncomfortable. Same awkward behavior applied when a couple friends mentioned setting up Gofundme/Venmos. I almost broke a sweat just thinking about people giving me money. I don’t know why I am this way when it comes to myself, especially since if the situation were to be reversed, I wouldn’t bat an eye to ensure my friend felt supported. It’s even weirder since logically, I know that it comes from such a place of kindness and love. Maybe it’s because I was never sporty/athletic so I never built thick skin by constantly asking my friends for donations for all those triathlons I’d hypothetically be doing.
One day a few weeks ago, I was FaceTiming with a friend and we stumbled upon the above topic. I told her about the offers to help financially and how I was feeling so squeamish about it. My friend (who by the way, has been my closest friend since I was 19 and for the better part of my life) decided to slap (not literally, although wouldn’t blame her if she did) some real sense into me. I can always trust her to do this on any occasion when I am being ridiculous, which happens probably more frequently than it should. She blatantly told me I was being ridiculous and her facial expression, priceless. If anyone looks classy AF when they are about to give you a piece of their mind, she has perfected that. “Damn it, stop being so freaking awkward and just accept the love that people are trying to show you!” She ended with, “You are just like R (referring to her husband). You guys are both great givers, but terrible receivers.” Oddly, that kind of put things into perspective for me. Her husband is one of the most generous and kind humans I’ve ever met, he’s also one of the smartest. I would hate it if he didn’t want to accept an act of kindness from me (or anyone else he helped). There’s an art to receiving and we need to become students of it asap.
While I left the convo still feeling weird – her points helped shift my thinking. It seems that cancer is really magnifying one of my biggest flaws. A flaw I actually didn’t realize until going through something like this.
I,…am a terrible receiver.
It’s important to be a great “giver” but it’s also equally important to be a great “receiver”. Life gets harder as we get older and while I never truly needed it in the past, sometimes – we all need help. And that’s okay! Growing up as an only child, I learned at an early age to rely mostly on myself. I don’t like to be around people when I’m sad, sick or working through a tough spot. But I’m used to being there for others when they are in those situations. And while I will probably always prefer to be the friend who listens to you, who holds your hand if you need some comforting – I am also learning that there’s something really beautiful to being on the receiving end of that too. Going through cancer makes you super vulnerable and humbles you beyond belief, but in the best way possible.
Therefore, this entry is dedicated to all of you. Thank you for being the “Joy” to my “Sadness”. From strangers, to acquaintances, to co-workers, to friends. For the messages, cards, gifts, wig funds, time, prayers and so much thoughtfulness I don’t even have a word in my vocabulary to begin to properly articulate my gratitude. Your support is literally what keeps me fighting every day. So from this super awkward, but grateful human – THANK YOU for teaching me the greatest lesson in the art of receiving.