Friends…

Helen Keller once said “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light.”[1] I have mentioned in previous posts that I am not sure where I would be without family; the same is true of my friends: without each and every one of them I know my physical and emotional recovery would not have progressed as it has. Every simple gesture, phone call, text, card, letter, and e-mail helps to boost my spirits and further my recovery efforts, more than they could possibly know.

Helen Keller
Helen Keller

—— Frustration ——-

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I title this subsection ‘Frustration’ not to highlight and elaborate the frustration I have felt in my recovery[2], but to tell you of the frustration I have caused my friends. Before the tumor I was often called a ‘homebody’. I preferred to stay home. After the surgery, this inclination became even stronger. Being in public or even seeing friends in my state is something I avoid if possible, even though I know that my friends really do not feel uncomfortable with my condition. My avoidance of social interactions and outings has hurt my friends and friendships. During a recent visit from Megha, she told me that she was upset because it seemed that since the surgery I had shut down emotionally. “There was a period [after the surgery]” she said, “that I would try to contact you, but got nothing in return. No response.” Another friend of mine, Greg, texted me asking why I had not reached out to him more. He said that he was worried that I had shut out not only him but also everyone else in my life. Until writing this, I had not thought too much about it, but imagine having a friend in need that you want to help, who seems to avoid all contact with you. Under normal circumstances, this friendship would not survive; ties would be cut. Luckily for me, all of my friends have been extremely patient, and have persisted in their efforts to get in touch with me, even though I appear elusive.

—- Help —–

When I met with Dr. Osuch, she asked me how much help I was receiving from friends. I don’t quite remember my response, but she deduced from my body language that it wasn’t much. She could tell from our encounter that I did not like to ask for help. “I know it may seem like a lot to ask someone for help, but friends do want to help.” I liken this to arriving to a friend’s home, and when asked if I’d like anything to drink, I used to say “no thanks” thinking this was the polite response and that I was saving them time and effort by declining. But what Dr. Osuch was saying, and what I’ve realized is that by saying ‘no thanks’ I was building a metaphorical wall between my friend and me. This friend wants to get you a drink. By getting you a drink, your thirst is quenched, a need is met, your friend is helping you, and comfort is built. In my case, by not asking for help, I was inadvertently distancing myself from my friends.

—— Old Friends——

When I was diagnosed, I immediately called and told my family. I sent out a mass e-mail to the residency program. I then sent two more e-mails; one message was to my college roommates to whom I had remained very close, and the second e-mail was to a college teammate and dear friend of mine[3], Cliff Nguyen. I immediately received responses from everyone in the program. Every one of my roommates quickly sent me their well wishes. Cliff, even though trying to juggle family, a new business, and a serious relationship wrote me immediately to express his concern.

I often hear much debate about whether schools like Harvard are truly worth it; is the education there really better? Doesn’t 1 + 1 = 2 there like it does everywhere else? While yes, it’s true that the education there is likely the same as everywhere else, you will be hard pressed to find fellow classmates who are as accomplished and influential.[4] The reason I bring this up is that my roommates have all achieved incredible things. From providing clean water to Africa to making millions with companies like JP Morgan Chase, I beam with pride every time I hear of what they are doing. I am the lucky one who gets to call them my roommates. When I told them of my condition they all responded, each asking if there was anything they could do to help. One of my roommates, Jesse Oberst, flew in from New York to see me in the hospital. This ordeal has brought me closer with all of them—they were all getting married pre-tumor; now many of them are having children. Every time I hear of them having children I become excited, not only because it makes me happy that they’ll get to share in the same joy as I do with my sons, but it also serves as a reminder that no matter what happens, life goes on.

Jesse and the boys
Jesse and the boys
Cliff and Christian
Cliff and Christian

—– Blog ——

After I began blogging about my experience I sent out a ‘notification’ on Facebook. I received countless messages sending me well wishes. The response to this blog has been amazing. I originally wrote for therapeutic purposes, but now I write in hopes of telling my story and getting it heard. Having this blog allows me to share my experiences with others, whether it be an old friend, or a stranger who just came across this website by chance.

—- A Friend in Need… —-

What truly defines a friend? Is it someone you have shared experiences with? Is it someone that loves you? Maybe it’s someone who is willing to help when needed. The many acts of kindness I’ve come across in my recovery makes me think that everyone is willing to help and wants to help; if a friend is defined by their willingness to help then perhaps everyone is my friend. I know this idea may be too ‘kumbaya-ish’ for your taste, but it is truly how I feel, as this experience has reinforced my belief in the basic goodness of all human beings. Even though walking, especially in the dark[5], would be difficult for me, I agree with Helen Keller. I cannot imagine going through this journey alone.

[1] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/30531-i-would-rather-walk-with-a-friend-in-the-dark

[2] I could devote a whole post to this feeling. In January I visited my older sister in California when she asked me “How is your recovery going Chris?” It seems like a simple, straightforward question, however, for some reason this question brought on a flood of emotions. I burst into tears. The only word I could manage to get out was “frustrating”. Even though I could only muster that one word, if I were coherent I would have told her how fumbling to get a straw out of its wrapper (because of my poor motor skills) or having to call out to my older son to corral my youngest (unfortunately 17 month olds like Cormac aren’t understanding of brain tumors and their ability to generate a slowed gait) was incredibly taxing to my psyche. One small occurrence is, in itself, only a minor annoyance. But when compounded together, it can be very emotionally difficult.

[3] I played tennis in college.

[4] For example, one of my roommates, Jesse Oberst, a coxswain for the national champion rowers, would often tell me of a ‘beef’ that two of his teammates were having with another Harvard undergrad over some website. It turns out that this ‘undergrad’ was Mark Zuckerberg, and the website was Facebook.

[5] Closing my eyes, or darkness exacerbates my and all cerebellar symptoms. Try to walk in a straight line with your eyes closed. It is really difficult. If you were able to do it, you can thank your cerebellum, as when you close your eyes your cerebellum kicks in.

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