My friends' fingers gently wrapped around my arm as they led me out my front door. Faint rays of light broke through my blindfold as I slowly stepped down from the porch. I soon felt gravel under my feet.
They were taking me somewhere, and I trusted them, but I had no idea what the next few hours would include. It was a welcomed kidnapping.
A heavy cloud hung over not just me, but my entire small group of friends. Nobody liked the news I'd delivered months prior: my colonoscopy found a concerning polyp and I needed colon surgery again. (We thought) it would remove the risk of cancer returning. As it turned out, cancer had already come.
We didn't know that at the time, but we did know a colon resection is no cake walk. My friends were determined to help me go into it feeling loved and strong.
The motor of my friend's SUV started and soon we were cruising down familiar streets. I still couldn't see much, but I knew the roads fairly well. As we pulled up to our destination, I thought I had an idea of where we'd gone - a coffee and wine bar near the community college. I was right, but what I hadn't anticipated was the "SURPRISE!" when the blindfold came off. At least a dozen girls, my closest friends, were all there.
Finding community changed sickness
I often look back on the afternoon my friends "stole" me away before surgery and it puts a smile on my face. In a hard situation, they pressed in. They didn't let scary words like cancer, polyps and surgery push them away. Also, I had let them in, and I didn't hold back my fear, anger and anxiety as I talked about the upcoming surgery.
As a community, we'd stuck together through weddings and baby deliveries, church planting and family fallouts. They didn't hesitate to jump in and help me through surgery.
It changed the way I experienced sickness.
Tempted to isolate
It's tempting to isolate when we face hard things, and I still struggle with this. If we're facing tough stuff, it can take energy we don't have to open up and share - it's exhausting. The feelings that come up as we talk about our pain aren't any fun either. Sometimes it seems easier to keep quiet.
On the flip side, it can be just as taxing to support a friend if we're scrambling to put our own busy lives together. A psychological distance will, often unconsciously, want to keep us separate from what we perceive as chaos in a friend's life.
The temptation we all face is to push away from each other, isolate, ignore or go superficial. We're all guilty of this. But if we're going to truly give and receive support, we must intimately connect and be open to community.
Finding community for you
It's been 10 years since that day my friends stole me away before surgery, and 18 years since I first heard the words "you have cancer." And while there's many lessons surviving cancer has taught me, few are more critical than this: do not forsake community. Friendships are important.
This doesn't mean life will always stay the same, and things won't change. Life is full of seasons and our relationships will always ebb and flow. But, there's always ways to find "your people" in a season of life. There will always be others who:
- share your values
- relate to your experience
- can help you make meaning of your circumstances
When there's a couple of people like this, it's a friendship. When there's a few more, that's a community. If you're on the hunt for this, here's a few places to start:
Sometimes, a powerful sense of community can come from simply living near one another. Being a good neighbor sounds old fashioned until you experience its power. Having someone next door or down the street willing to mow the lawn, babysit the kiddo, lend you sugar, watch over your house or just sit and talk - its a powerful thing. Neighborhood is one of the easiest ways to find community. Sometimes, it just takes going outside.
Work or School
Being a teenager when I was diagnosed with cancer, my friends from school were an instant community for me. My co-workers at the public library, where I worked, also helped carry me through my sickness. They brought meals and did hospital visits. They reminded me that there was life outside of cancer. This is the power of community - it helps you see beyond the bad thing you're going through. It can give you reasons to look ahead with hope and optimism.
My cancer center hosted a support group I attended, and it felt comforting to sit in a small circle of people who could relate with me on some level. I've also watched alcoholic anonymous and recovery centers change people's lives through building a community centered around support groups. There's nothing quite like being around a lot of people who say "me too." It can unlock growth and freedom.
I began sharing my story very publicly through The Colon Club, and later Fight Colorectal Cancer. These two nonprofit organizations connected me to a nationwide community of people who've also faced colon cancer. While the community is spread out between miles and states, there's still a strong bond between us. Electronic communication keeps us connected until we face an opportunity to meet and connect in-person at events. And just ask anyone who has been to "Colon Camp" or Call-on Congress - it's magical.
I am aware that the word "church" can turn stomachs and make most people want to puke. I get it, there's a lot of hurt and disappointment when it comes to church. That's why I say "faith community." Whatever you call it, it's crazy important.
At the heart of a church, or faith community, is a shared spiritual belief that ties people together. In Christian communities, there's a notion that suffering leads to beautiful things and a command to bear one another's burdens. I wouldn't be the same without my faith community.
I fully believe most hearts long for this, but few know where to find it. If this is you, keep praying and asking around. If you have a friend with a strong faith you admire, ask them what they do for church. Ask them to meet with you and talk about spiritual things. These are hard questions and steps, but they can change your life.
Community is worth it
My friends, it's worth it to find community. Why? Because amongst all of the great things community can do, it shows us we're not alone.
Danielle blogs about cancer survivorship, communications and faith. Subscribe to the weekly Monday Morning Survival Guide!