(John Denver reference)
I have been talking to my friend Cheryl in the Cancer Survivors Network for six years now. She was there when I entered the chat room for the first time, remembers my high and mighty attitude, wondering why people were laughing, telling jokes, flirting, talking about food, talking about children and grandkids, talking about jobs, and talking about sex, even if most of it was double entrendres, and then more about food, and with this constant undercurrent of humor and friendship.
I was new to the room, new really to cancer, having survived a lengthy surgery, four days of coma, and at the time undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
I was seeking some serious contact with fellow survivors (and didn't even know I was one at the time) and to be reading all of this frivolous stuff about everything BUT cancer angered me. I had come roaring in with a great sense of entitlement and suddenly these people were asking who I was, what sort of cancer I had survived, what treatment I had experienced, and any number of other questions. I felt like I was strapped into a chair under the proverbial white light, getting the old fashioned police grilling.
To be honest, I left in a HUGE huff. Screw this place, I thought, where they talk about anything BUT cancer. To hell with this chat room where people talk about everything under the sun BUT cancer except when it came to me, whom they attempted to practically skin to get information from, information most of which I had no clue about: I didn't get cancer as an elective, I didn't attempt to live through surgery, coma, chemotherapy, and radiation to pass a class. What would I know about the type of cancer, the nature of the chemicals in my chemo cocktail, the dosage and name of my radiation? When I was told I had cancer, I wanted it out. I didn't ask questions.
To be confronted in this way was not just insulting but revolting. I left, as I said, in a huff.
Why I came back, I'll never know, but when I entered it was just me and some lady named DEB who was also there when I got the grilling. She made many suggestions about what that room was about and they all made sense. I was back for good, and, after Deb, the next friend I made was likely Deb's very good friend, a hillbilly lady from West Virginia named Cheryl. I called her Cher from the start, laziness being a hallmark of chat talk.
Cher and I have been chatting ever since. I am not a chatroom habitue. The CSN chatroom is the only one I hang out in. I have, over the last six years, made many friends there. I will name none of them, at the risk of leaving many of them out, but there have been a boatload of them. Some of them, sadly, have since passed away; others, happily, have moved on to living life and no longer needing the sort of therapy and cameraderie and understanding that can be found in that room. A few of us, we hang on, our need to help others, our need to stay in touch with our friends, even, important enough to make time to be there, especially when new survivors, when new caregivers find their way to the place.
Cher and I are among the hangers-on, among the very few who have been in that room for at least six years, among the very few who consider it paying it forward to be there, to help when we can. In truth, I remember DEB, and how she steered me in the right direction when I came back in that second time. And, of course, I clearly remember those early friends, Cher and others, who helped me to understand that I was not alone, that my anger was normal, that my fear and anxiety were not unusual.
Cher and I, we are friends. We are very good friends. I know her children without ever having met them. I know her granddaughter and I know that there is another grandchild on the way. I know her husband, Joe, and I know her brother, and I know a great deal about where she lives and how she lives and what she does from day to day. We are friends.
I make a distinction: I call my online friends digital friends. This is an important distinction to us from the old school. If I have not met you, you are at the very best sort of real, probably real (maybe), and my friend, but only digitally. We have all been fooled before.
I could tell you a hundred stories about Cher and I, and about how she (and DEB,most likely) brought others into my life to perhaps save me in moments of down. But there are too many.
I bring all of this up just to introduce the fact that I finally met Cher and her husband Joe Monday night, here in Virgnia Beach, at a Greek restaurant, along with my wife Corrine.
She, Joe, they are no longer digital friends. They are cherished friends, 'real' friends, and because we met I will never forget this Monday night.
Without delving into details, let me just say that Corrine and Cher, I learned that night, even about my wife, moreso than ever, can take over a room. From our conversations in the Chat Room, I assumed Cher would be a drawling, slow-talking sort, which is the exquisitely exact opposite of who she is. The woman, and I mean this in the kindest way, can pretty much talk non-stop and fast enough that you may need a recorder so that you can play back the parts you missed! And while her husband Joe seemed shy and reticent at first, Corrine opened him up like a clam, and he was a part of the conversation before very long at all, at least from my perspective.
I have to point out that Joe, whom I had never met, ignored my offer of a handshake when we met and instead gave me a big old hug that I found surprising but in the most pleasant way, and did the very same when we parted company.
In between, we had food that was less than I expected from this joint, but passable, I took the opportunity to drop food from my mouth to my WHITE (striped) polo shirt almost immediately, watched Joe take down what looked like half a chicken, and still had miles to go on my meal when they were all done.
In between, there was much talk (especially from Cher and Corrine), a lot of laughter and, for Cher and I, a few moments of reflection about friends we have lost, most recently our buddy Zeke.
Cher and I go back a long way, digitally or not, and we are truly great friends. When she presented me and my wife with gifts (guess what, fellow CSNers': homemade sauerkraut!), I insisted that we stop on the way out so that I could show her some sort of token of affection and remembrance. I insisted that she have a lighthouse, and decided that Joe needed a Virginia is for Lovers coffee cup :)
I AM a weird dude.
I love that fast-talking, truth-telling, lovely Cher. And I suspect that I got those big old bear hugs from her husband in thanks for keeping her occupied so that he didn't have to listen to her all of the time :).
I don't know why these drive-bys, as I call them, mean so much to me. I really haven't figured that out. I enjoyed meeting Tina and Chris and the Cannoli Kid, without doubt, and will treasure that time forever. Our meeting with Cher and Joe was marvelous even if I got more on my shirt than in my mouth, even if I could rarely talk, else I couldn't eat (and besides, as Joe would probably attest, it was hard to get a word in edgewise with those two women going at it).
I just know that it works. I come away a happier person, a better person, and my wife understands more clearly what is so important to me about the CSN Chat Room. As she said: you are two for two in the friends we have met from that site.
What she doesn't know is that these were easy 'picks' and that are a whole lot of others I would also like to break bread with.
Cher, Joe, love you. Joe, I cannot convey to you what those hugs meant to me.