By Ayesha Hakki
Make Up. Break Up.
Break Up. Make Up.
Relationships twist and turn.
Strain and yearn
In times of illness.
Those you thought would be there disappear in a flurry of excuses. Then the ones you thought never cared surprise you with love and patience.
This is what I am learning.
People react to illness in strange ways. Either they are gung-ho behind you, showing up when you need help, going with you to doctor’s appointments or offering to wash your dishes when you’re too weak to stand up. Or they promise undying love, call you “best friend” and then promptly disappear when you are no longer “fun” to hang out with. I get it. In the past five months of my diagnosis, I have experienced it all and honestly, I get it.
You know that island that people disappear to, the one without the cell phones and internet access. “Yes baby, I’ll call you.” Those famous last words before they depart this world all together? Well, in times of illness, that island seems to hit its high season. In fact, I too have already bought a handful of one-way tickets that I dispense freely to anyone, male or female, whom can’t accept what I am going through.
At first, I was hesitant, resistant, taking each excuse as a singular occurrence. “So sorry you aren’t feeling well, I would’ve come to visit, but my work schedule has been really busy, and I have been traveling and now my cousin is coming to town.” This from a friend with whom I used to hang out with almost every weekend. Issue ticket #1.
Then, I thought that maybe I was being too needy. “All I ask is that I can call you on the phone to talk when I’m scared,” I said to a long-distance pal of many, many years. And I did call, perhaps two or three times in as many weeks, and all I got back were a few text messages, sorry I have been working crazy hours and couldn’t call you back, yet my Facebook feed was filled with their various social selfies. Issue ticket #2
After that, the tickets just issued themselves, really. Three, four, five, seven, ten… All of a sudden, they came with the clear chime of a toxic bell and I really didn’t have the patience to deal with all these lackluster excuses. I didn’t choose to get cancer, but I could choose how and with whom I will share it with, and if that meant taking inventory of my relationships, then so be it.
And strangely, it was freeing. When I started to realize that I could make it through this without the people I thought I needed in my life, I think I tapped some deep hidden well of acceptance I never knew I had. Gradually, as the intoxicating liquid flowed into my empty spaces, hearing “no” no longer matter. When the cute British diplomat who took my number at the grocery store stopped calling after he learned of my illness, it didn’t matter. When one of my work events didn’t produce the revenues it was supposed to, it didn’t matter. These were small things. I was just starting to see a bigger picture.
And then, just as I freed up space on my dance card, soon enough, people who I never thought would be there tapped me on the shoulder and asked for a number.
There was the woman at the gym who slipped an encouraging note in my locker when she found me crying in the corner after I realized my body wasn’t strong enough to do a basic workout. There was the group of angels who prayed for me when the doctors said I would need another surgery and miraculously, on the day of the decision, they couldn’t find any more bad cells. Punita, who has texted me every morning for the past three months without fail to ask how I am doing. Zeb who has helped me laugh when the days are the darkest. And then there are my friends like Garo who has come with me to my appointments when my father wasn’t able to and Rishi who brings me groceries when I am too weak to get up. Payal who always encourages me with her sage advice and Shivonie, a woman who I’ve never met save our Facebook connection, but who inspires me everyday with her courageous battle through cancer treatments that are a thousand times more intense than mine.
And I’m learning. As Deepak Chopra says,
That Love is the only reality.
Not money, not red carpets, not the endless round of soirees that fill my social media feed. It’s the relationships that strengthen you as an individual. It’s acceptance that lets you see clearly. It’s Love and only Love…that really matters.