Friends and Survivors

In 2000, I started an exercise class for breast cancer survivors as my way of giving back to the community. The class was held every week for seven years and averaged between eight and twelve people weekly.

When we lost access to the facility where I taught, the group resolved to meet every two months for dinner as our way of staying together as friends. Over the years, three of the original members died, three moved out of town, and one person was added to the group. We were now seven women with a shared history and shared lives.

My heart sunk when I thought about the next dinner. So far, I had told only family members and two friends about my diagnosis — but I had to tell the women in the group. They’re my support, my extended family, my co-survivors.

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After everyone orders dinner, I wait for a millisecond break in the conversation and say clearly, “I have an announcement to make.”

I stare out the window at cars circling the parking lot so I don’t have to look into anyone’s eyes.

“My cancer is back.”

Silence crashes the table like a bomb lobbied through the window.

“It was diagnosed two weeks ago but I’ve known for about a month.”

Murmurs of “Oh my God,” “I’m so sorry.” Arms around my shoulders. I am a blur trying to find solidity in a circle of friends.

Dinner arrives. I continue my story with all details. Several women pick at their food, barely eating.

We are here to celebrate but I’ve ruined the party. I put a pall over the evening, a rock-heavy cape on everyone’s shoulders.

But my friends understand, and every single one of them will love and support me when I need them.