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March 17, 2008

Essay from April Issue of Glamour

Glamour's April issue has a great collection of essays on friendship by writers like Jennifer Weiner, Julie Klam and, um, me. I have always felt slightly unworthy of my friendships, like I couldn't possibly have done enough to deserve them. So I was glad to have the chance to spill some ink on a few pals. I hope it gives a little honor to the many women who accompanied me through cancer, including Missy (in the photo at right). Whatever your crisis is--infertility, unemployment, divorce--I'm sure you can agree that when it's over, you're left with a tremendous sense of awe and gratitude for the people who showed up. Here's to you guys, a model for us all.

APRIL GLAMOUR: 7 Friends Every Woman Needs

The friends who show up

You never know until you know, you know? You hope your friends are what you think they are—loyal, deep, fast—but you don’t find out for sure until, say, a big lump in your breast turns out to be a bad tumor. Shannon called from vacation in tears when she heard my news. Mellie hired me a house cleaner. Carolann knitted me a warm, kicky beret that I wore for months until it began to fall apart and my husband said I looked like a 40-year-old pothead. One by one, in choreographed succession, Phoebe, Tracy and Missy packed bags and came from points east to California, because they “had to be with me.” They didn’t know what they were doing—my cancer was a first for all of us—but they came anyway. They brought things— art supplies for my two kids, books for my husband, slippers and sleeping caps for me.

And all this came as quite a surprise to me. Had I earned this much support?

I had lived most of my life in the company of men. When I was growing up, my older brothers dominated our house, as much with their giant bags of sweaty ice hockey equipment that filled the laundry room as with their epic tales of triumph at the boy-girl dance. I lived in the space that was left over, sometimes boldly (if ineffectively) inserting myself into the action, but mostly saving my voice for a later day. I’ve often pretended that I preferred hanging out with men. After all, I had learned how to cuss like a sea hand and tell a joke like a bartender and, damn it, I wasn’t going to rein myself in for a bunch of lily-livered “ladies” who bored me with their small talk about wrap dresses and Pilates and sisal rugs.

But it was the ladies who saved me, physically and emotionally. My surgeon was a woman, as were my ob-gyn, my chemo nurse, my radiation oncologist, my genetic counselor and the psychologist who gave us the words “cancer is like weeds in a garden,” a phrase my husband and I used over and over again with our small children (who are, incidentally, both girls). When my fertility was sacrificed to the cause, I found the empathy I so needed in the arms of Mary Hope and then Meg and then my mother, all of whom knew to listen for a long time (days) before reminding me that the two girls I already had were double-good, and would surely fill me up if I let them. Maybe it was the central role my breasts were suddenly playing in things, but looking back, it was a distinctly feminine time and one that left me wiser than it found me.

Since then, since I’ve become a regular person again instead of a cancer patient, I’ve kept a soft spot in my heart for guy friends, but I woo girlfriends. I cultivate and collect them because I know. Believe me, I know.

—Kelly Corrigan, author of the New York Times best-seller The Middle Place.