Today, I leave you with author Elizabeth Hein who has written an inspiring and empathizing read about life, friendship and the demon walking among us–cancer. I recently finished reading her book, How to Climb the Eiffel Tower and will provide a review tomorrow. Elizabeth’s story touched my heart – acts of kindness truly don’t go unnoticed. Here’s her lovely book trailer.
I want to thank Eileen for hosting me today. It’s a treat to be able to talk about the importance of friendship in surviving treatment, and how it inspired my latest novel.
People show their true character in times of crisis. The old adage a friend in need is a friend indeed became a reality to me when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. At the time, I was the mother of two young girls, a small business owner, and a PTA president. My daily life included a fairly large group of women that I considered friends. I stood at the neighborhood bus stop with the same five women every morning and every afternoon for four years, yet as soon as the word spread that my lingering cough was stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma, those people disappeared from my life. The people I thought were my friends turned out to be just people I saw every day.
Luckily, several people I barely knew came out of the woodwork to help. Pam, a retired Air Force nurse I knew from PTA, organized a group of PTA moms and dads to keep my family fed. I rarely got out of bed, never mind talked to people, during the weeks I received chemotherapy so Pam put a large cooler on my front porch and set up a schedule for people to leave casseroles in it. Those dishes of lasagna and macaroni and cheese meant the world to me and my girls.
A neighbor who I briefly knew through the neighborhood book club, also stepped up to help. She was a two-time survivor of breast cancer and understood the psychological stresses of going through cancer treatment. She would come over during my “good” weeks and just talk. She didn’t make me talk about my cancer, but she would leave holes in our conversations where I could talk about it if I wanted to. Most helpfully, she shared her own feelings of anger toward her cancer. She didn’t ever try to put a happy face on her experience.
The other person that showed up when I really needed her was my friend, Kaliana. Our daughters were good friends and we had a nice casual friendship. When I got sick, she became a dear friend. She made me special tinctures and oils to rub on my skin to help me sleep. She brought me healing teas to make me feel like eating when I lost my appetite. And, she listened to me talk when I needed to vent. She is one of the most caring people I have ever met. We are still friends to this day, although we don’t see each other very often.
These friends were there when I needed them. Their small acts of kindness sustained me through my year-long journey through Cancerland and inspired me when I sat down to write How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. The novel revolves around two women who meet in an oncology department waiting room and become friends. I wanted to show how something as trivial as offering to share a cup of coffee with someone can have monumental significance in that person’s life and change them.
As I have been talking to people about the book, cancer survivors have shared their stories of how a friend helped them get through that difficult time in their life. I have been overwhelmed by these stories of friendship and have started the Waiting Room Friends Project as a place where people can share their stories. I suspect it will take several months before I collect enough stories to put together an anthology, but I hope to do that and make it available sometime next year. If you would like to get involved, please contact me at waitingroomfriends at gmail dot com.
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Elizabeth Hein writes women’s fiction with a bit of an edge. Her novels explore the role of friendship in the lives of adult women and themes of identity. Her first novel, Overlook, spotlighted a housewife dealing with a cheating husband and the pressures of keeping up appearances. Elizabeth has published several short stories and is currently writing a novella and beginning to write a historical family saga about how love and identity effect four generations of women. She and her husband now live in Durham, North Carolina.