Cancer and My High School Reunion: Healing Friendships

Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of our 32nd president said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." I wonder if Eleanor ever attended any of her high school reunions.

After my diagnosis of Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) in 2017, I made a goal to attend my 45th high school reunion. I know. Some people want to climb a mountain to prove they can do something hard. I wanted to reconnect with people from my past.

I had never attended any of my school's reunions, not one in 45 years. Why? It's complicated. Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma had more than 600 graduates in 1974. Born in 1956, we were smack dab in the middle of the Baby Boomers. There were always so many of us! When you're introverted, it's harder to make friends in such a large setting. I had lost contact with my best friend in high school, also complicated. Long story short: Gossip is the devil's radio.

As the reunion date grew closer, I told myself, you aren't storming the beaches of Normandy, Connie. You're going to a party. Just try to feel your best, so you can look and act your best.

Life changes our looks and our priorities

Dulci, my best friend in high school, reconnected with me on Facebook in 2017, but we hadn't seen each other in person since 1976. We had a lot of catching up to do. We sat together at the reunion and reenacted a photo from our teenage years. She, too, had been anxious about the event. Other women commented that they felt self-conscious because they were no longer the slender girls from the 1970s. Men who once bragged about their cool cars now bragged about their cute grandkids. Life changes our looks and our priorities.

The reunion committee had prepared a memorial table for those classmates who had passed away. I had to hold back tears as I viewed the young faces of classmates not only from high school but also from junior high and elementary school. Eighty photos were displayed on that table! They all died too soon.

According to a chart my oncologist has, my life expectancy is about nine more years living with MDS. (I want to throw darts at that chart.) This information feels like an expiration date on a milk carton. Come on, all you brilliant people, invent the cancer cure already! My new goal is to keep my photo off the memorial table at our 55th reunion in 2029.

Planning to live a long life with MDS

Did you know when you're older, having a lot of friends may help you live longer? One study found people with many pals had a 22% better chance of living through the 10-year period of study than those with only a few friends. I also read that loneliness is as harmful to your health as smoking and that loneliness can cause memory loss!

I have been volunteering for Centenarians of Oklahoma. We honor those who reach the age of 100. Something many centenarians have in common is strong family ties and a large circle of supportive friends. Studies have proven that friendships can ease stress, improve your immune system (I'm really rooting for that one!) and protect your heart.

Eleanor Roosevelt also said, "A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water." Maybe I will live past my expiration date with a little help from my old and new friends.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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