Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The healing power of friendship

Day Three of the Anti-Cancer Challenge

Only hours after announcing the launch of my Anti-Cancer Challenge - a year-long cancer-prevention program of immune-boosting food, exercise and rest - I received a powerful immune boost from an unexpected source: my friends! Six emails arrived within the hour, enthusiastically supporting my project, while at the same time expressing concern for my well-being.

"I applaud your new endeavor and wish you very well with it," wrote my friend Lucy, before adding: "I have a slight reservation about the workload of the blog adding to the pressures that keep you from exercise and sleep rather than reducing the load." Perhaps another irony to add to my son's list, she noted wryly.

A few minutes later, Mareike, whom I have known since first grade, wrote: "One piece of advice: please don't get even more stressed-out because of the Challenge! I can already hear you saying 'Oh no! I've got to squeeze in a quick dose of exercise before rushing off to bed at 10.30'. Please avoid stumbling into the perfectionism-trap!" she wrote, before suggesting: "perhaps you might want to incorporate a few completely ‘pointless' activities: a half-hour on your sofa with a gossip magazine, a spot of window-shopping, a stolen hour with a good book, or an evening at the movies?"

Debby backed her up, highlighting the importance of "just reading for pleasure, meditating, piddling around the house, or doing nothing!" Recharging time is just as necessary as a healthy diet and exercise, she reminded me. How true.

First, I'd like to thank my friends for their wise words of advice. Indeed, I kept putting off the launch of the Challenge while reflecting on whether and how I would be able to create the space for it so that it didn't overwhelm me. In the end, I decided I could fit it in, as long as I set myself strict boundaries:

  • Writing no more than 600-700 words per post
  • Writing no more than 5 posts a week
  • Not posting on weekends
  • Not putting myself under pressure to write The Ultimate Post each time
  • Not posting during family vacations

When I worked as a newswire journalist, I came to appreciate the "quick-and-dirty" : a simple commentary that didn't necessitate hours and hours of research but got across useful information. I plan to serve these up here occasionally: for instance, a photo or poem that inspired me, a link to a topical article elsewhere on the internet or a recipe for a tasty and immune-boosting meal I just cooked. Battling my penchant for verbosity and perfectionism over the next year may itself prove therapeutic!

Meanwhile, I have derived great strength and nourishment from my friends' support. Not only does it feel good at a human level to be 'held' by others as one embarks on a journey into the unknown. Having a network of close, caring friends may actually boost our immunity and reduce cancer risks.

Indeed, a large-scale U.S. study published in the Journal of Oncology showed that women with breast cancer who had 10 or more close friends were four times more likely to survive their illness than those who did not. Having the support of relatives was shown to help too: women who reported having close relatives had a 2½-fold greater chance of surviving breast cancer than those who did not.

Surprisingly, being married or belonging to a religious community was not associated with reduced mortality risk. "The results are consistent with the notion that among women, the most important source of support is often not the women's spouses, but other significant network members," the study's authors commented.

Regardless of whether we are cancer patients, survivors or have remained untouched by cancer, we all thrive on the love and support of our close friends. So why not send an e-mail or make a phone call to a good friend today; it won't just make her or him feel good, it may also boost your own emotional and physical well-being!

More from Conner Middelmann
More from Psychology Today
More from Conner Middelmann
More from Psychology Today