My friend came to visit the other day. She brought a variety of baked goods and her own latte. When I saw her, we hugged for the first time – not the first time since the pandemic, but for the first time ever. This was the first hug we could actually physically do because it was the first time our bodies allowed it. She is my new friend, and unbelievably we met in the hospital. For nearly a week, she was my roommate in a small room with one bathroom and two beds separated by an ugly curtain. Of all the many surprises I have encountered over the past months of illness and healing, making a new friend is one of the most unexpected.

She was already placed in her bed by the window when I first arrived in the room. After an enforced two nights in recovery where my blood pressure was going haywire, I was finally allowed onto a ward. My arrival was not quiet, as I suppose is normally the case in these circumstances. I have no idea what time it was, but they wheeled me in, my gurney surrounded by nurses, orderlies and at least one doctor. They threw on the lights, forcefully yanked the curtain around us and hoisted me into place, attaching and reattaching the tubes and wires poking out from all sides. I’m sure I provided a soundtrack of grunts and groans and fake reassurances. I was not thinking about the poor woman in the bed just a few feet away from me who was suffering with her own God-knows-what. Finally, when I was left alone in my bed, trying not to move, fighting back tears as I stared at the white board on the wall which now had my name on it, I heard a soft voice from beyond the curtain.

I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard that you live near me. Let me know if you ever want to talk. I didn’t realize how much I did want to talk. Now that I was settled in my bed, I wanted to talk not to a doctor or a nurse, but to a person who might understand what I was going through – especially when I didn’t.

Over the next several days we fell into a routine of talking over breakfast and at odd times during the day when we needed encouragement. We applauded each other’s tentative walks into the hallway. We helped each other understand what our doctors and nurses had told us when we realized our post-surgery brain fogs had gotten the best of us. We discussed the intricacies of our bodily functions in a way we would never have discussed with anyone else. I heard her persevere, and she heard me cry.

Although geography might have allowed our paths to cross, I’m sure we never would have met each other. She’s older than I am and had a career which wouldn’t have intersected with mine. Yet in those few days we met each other’s families, laughed about annoying phone calls, and shared secrets. When she left to go home, walking upright on her own, we promised to stay in touch, and then, as I laid there wondering if some new roommate would arrive, I felt alone and bereft.

This kind of intense connection doesn’t always happen. It certainly didn’t with the next patient to take up that vacated bed. Nor did I want it to because I immediately recognized what a special gift this new friendship was. She had helped me through the acute phase of one of the most difficult times of my life. Her presence was a surprise, and her easy understanding and shared sense of humor was a balm. Then, luckily enough, it continued to be just that as was sat in my living room licking icing off our fingers. I believe our friendship will continue as we move past shared pain. Although it might seem to some readers that I am still defining myself by my cancer, my new friendship is a sign that all of this will, indeed, become a memory. This experience will take its place in the section of my heart devoted to those difficult times which have helped me grow into who I am and will be. My new friendship helps me know that there is a will be, and it is as full of happy surprises as my past has been. Positives have sprouted out of the hard soil of this negative. I just have to allow myself to see them.