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A Certain Smile - Friendship through breast cancer

By Dianne Armitage

While having lunch the other day, I happened to overhear a conversation at a nearby table. I was dining alone and trying my best to look mysterious and intellectual by staring intently at a magazine I'd already thumbed through at least a dozen times. By now, my need for stimulation bordered on the pathetic.

One of the women had smiled at me as she was being seated. This meant that although I didn't know her from Adam, I held her in high esteem and something akin to fondness. It also meant I had no qualms about eavesdropping as they discussed work, childcare, and problems with their spouses. Since it's nearly impossible to eat with your head craned towards a neighboring table, I was just about to open my magazine once again, when my new best friend announced she was thinking about having "a boob job."

I wanted to lean over and say, "You really shouldn't even think about getting implants because they make it more difficult for doctors to read a mammogram." But even I knew that lending this sort of input was likely to make her wish she hadn't smiled in my direction, and that she could move to another table!

There was a time when I might have been engaged in a very similar conversation. It seems like another lifetime. I have fond memories of dishing with girlfriends about things that weren't life-altering (although if you'd asked us at the time, we would most certainly have begged to differ).

Girlfriends are usually the first to know we've started our period (or our period is late), have a crush, have broken up with our boyfriends, or pad our bras. They often know secrets we don't even tell our diaries. Friendships are our conduit to the reality of who we really are. Our friends see us at our strongest and at our most vulnerable -- and if they are true friends they love us either way. They laugh with us until someone yells, "Stop or I'll wet my pants!" And they cry with us when others have frown tired of hearing our tales of woe.

Breast cancer changes friendships. Certainly, we still talk about husbands, children, and jobs, but rather than breast enhancement, we are more likely to talk about losing a breast or worse yet, our lives.

Lasting friendships are defined by surviving change. When life removes our safety net, it's our friends who gather round and embrace us, letting us know they are here to break our fall. This realization brought a smile to my face that I made sure to share with a nearby stranger!

Reprinted from Amoena Life magazine, Summer/Fall 2007.