New Friendships Are Born in the Cancer Treatment Room

by Bethany Kandel Health Writer

Breast cancer can be lonely. Although family and friends may be helpful and sympathetic, sometimes you feel like you are all alone in a fight for your life. But during treatment, you may find friendship in the most unusual places…like in the chemo ward, or even the waiting room where you sit in anticipation of your daily radiation therapy. I did.

Girl with cancer meeting with a friend.

Meeting a “Comrade in Treatment”

On my first day of a six-week course of radiation, a nurse introduced me to Anna, a more “experienced” patient. She had just started treatment a week before me, but she already knew the ropes and was happy to teach me what she had learned. While we waited for our sessions each day, she prepared me for side effects, advised me on the most effective cream to prevent skin burns from radiation, and suggested the best bras to wear. Her “been there/done that” advice was a great comfort.

Eager to See My Hospital Friend

Before long, I actually looked forward to going to the hospital each day because I would get to hang out with Anna. We laughed and talked about our families, books, food, and, of course, about how breast cancer had changed our lives. Making friends with a fellow patient in treatment can be a saving grace.

close up of woman's hands getting chemo

Family and Loved Ones Sometimes Can't Be There

It can also help to have loved ones who, while they haven’t gone through treatment themselves, can accompany you to yours to offer emotional, spiritual, and physical support. Yet, not everyone has someone who is willing or able to spend four to eight hours or more at their side every week.

Woman visiting her friend in the hospital.

Volunteer Buddies: Companionship During Treatment

Sometimes, there are volunteers to fill in when family and friends cannot. After being there for every chemotherapy session as her late sister battled metastatic breast cancer, Jill Kincaid decided that no one should go through this alone. With her sister’s encouragement, she created an organization called Chemo Buddies to match patients with trained volunteers in five treatment centers in Indiana and Kentucky.

woman with head scarf talking to senior woman, smiling

Buddies Make Treatment Day Better

“Having someone with you makes the day better…and shorter,” says Kincaid. “It’s the hope; the joy; the energy in the room when the volunteers are there, instead of just hearing machines beeping. People say they look forward to coming to chemo to see their Chemo Buddy and catching up.”

bald woman laughing with friend

Metastatic Cancer Patients Need Buddies for the Long Haul

Having a buddy can be especially important for those with metastatic breast cancer, Kincaid says. Such patients, whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body, have a terminal illness and may be treated with a long course of ongoing chemotherapy. “When you have MBC it’s much harder to stay positive and keep hope,” says Kincaid. “A buddy is someone you can talk to and cry with. They’ll listen. And since most are survivors themselves, they understand.”

two friends getting ready to box

A Forever Buddy for a Forever Fighter

Lois Solomon is in her tenth year battling metastatic breast cancer, and her good friend Peggy has attended almost every doctor’s visit, scan, and chemotherapy session with her. “She has my life on her calendar,” says Solomon, 73, of East Brunswick, N.J. “You couldn’t find a better friend. Sometimes we play word games, we read, or she gets me a cup of hot chocolate. I’m a forever fighter. I’ve never had a break from chemo since I was diagnosed. And Peggy has been by my side the whole time.”

Blowing confetti.

Celebrating Life in the Chemo Room

Staying upbeat and positive can be an important part of the healing process. That’s why the chemo room doesn’t have to be somber and intimidating. Some chemo patients wear empowering t-shirts, Wonder Woman costumes, funny hats or wigs to make them feel strong during treatment. One cancer clinic made a music video, “Chemo Shop,” to celebrate the lighter side of the chemo room and the camaraderie you can find there.

Friends with cancer laughing.

Friends Beyond Treatment

Friendships made in cancer treatment can last forever. Although Anna and I have gone our separate ways, we still meet for coffee and a chat now and then. Our bonds were secured during a difficult time and life has gone on. I cherish the friendship we made kicking cancer to the curb.

Bethany Kandel
Meet Our Writer
Bethany Kandel

Bethany Kandel is a New York-based journalist, health writer, and author. Her articles have appeared in dozens of national publications and websites, including The New York Times, Prevention, Good Housekeeping, and Woman’s Day. After a breast cancer diagnosis, she began writing about the subject. She created Breast Cancer Freebies, where she helps patients/survivors find free wigs, hats, and other resources to help them thrive. Find her on Twitter @cancerfreebies.