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Reach Out and Gather a Community

First breast cancer. Then, serious shoulder surgery. Would we be open about the news or not? In the end, it was a clear choice for us: to be very open about my cancer and Angie's injury and to reach out to our community. We were in the midst of an unaccustomed level of vulnerability, need and dependency. We didn't want to do it alone and likely could not have done so.

The idea of connecting with others is affirmed by research. Relationships and how we help others are important factors in living long, happy lives - with a twist. The Terman study, discussed in The Longevity Project, (see link which follows) found that beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age. The Grant Study which followed Harvard graduates for 72 years also found this: “the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”[1]

Before my chemotherapy treatment began (and before Angie fell), we convened an ‘at home’ gathering to speed us on the way. The gathering was lovely. Even though severe weather forecasts prudently kept some people away and colds deterred others, about 60 family, friends, colleagues and neighbours flowed through our home at some point during the afternoon. They brought love and hugs along with gifts of words or images for my vision board, together with offers of practical assistance. Other offerings have come in mail and email from those who weren’t able to come that day.

Our community has continued to provide practical and emotional support as needed. We have been moved and overcome by peoples’ graciousness and generosity of heart. In turn, we have kept in touch with our ‘village’ through email updates, visits and phone calls. My emails are collected in The Letters section of the blog. We loved getting replies, no matter how short or long.

The godchildren have been a continual blessing. They brought energy, optimism, hugs, hope, distraction, humour and love. They cottoned on early that something was 'up' when we suddenly had a lot of appointments and they couldn't just drop in through the woodland path as they were used to doing. Their grandmother had recently died of cancer making disclosure of my own cancer all the more delicate. We talked it over with their parents and decided to let the kids know the basics in combination with reassurance that things looked good for me even though I'd have to have a lot of medicine over the year. They rolled with it. When I lost my hair and began to wear Delores, the wig, we said 'oh, Aunty B's had a new haircut'. "Oh", they said back, "it looks good. They rolled with it. When my hair was coming back but still short they also accepted the updated explanation that I'd decided to have a buzz cut style hair cut when we were on holiday in Florida. We'll no doubt find out in a few years that they were onto us but humouring us. They were part of the days of celebration of milestones with their parents. They particularly liked 'that New Zealand dessert' - the pavlova I made for a celebratory dinner at their place after chemotherapy. And, the older boy said that what we wanted for his birthday in mid-May was for Angie to be out of her sling in time. Having kids in our life, then, is a source of healing and happiness.

[1] See: “10 Things You Can Do Today that Will Make You Happier”:

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