Coping With Cancer: Making Friends with a Rock

By Margaret Nyman

October 8, 2009

As we drove toward Chicago for radiation #8 today, Nate’s cell phone rang repeatedly. Each call was from a client. I listened to his end of the conversations while the miles ticked off on our familiar route. Suddenly I noticed something strange. Instead of answering legal questions, he was answering personal ones.

“Well, it started in the pancreas. Yes, radiation. Probably chemo. Not for a few weeks. No, not that bad.”

One after another, business acquaintances called to express concern for Nate, and it dawned on me that during his 37 years of lawyering, many of his strictly-business clients had become good friends. After discovering his diagnosis, they were now checking in. I marveled that he had an entire circle of support I knew nothing about.

Last year our two youngest daughters, 20-year-old Louisa and 18-year-old Birgitta, were waiting impatiently for Nate one Sunday morning after church. Brunch was next on the agenda, and they were anxious to get to it.

“Where’s Papa?” Birgitta asked.

“Oh you know him,” Louisa answered. “He’s probably chatting somewhere with someone he never met before. He could make friends with a rock.”

I loved the creative way she complimented her father’s interest in conversing with people. His favorite subjects are history, politics and current events, but it doesn’t stop there. He’s fascinated by the stories of people’s lives and has an uncanny ability to remember the details they offer.

This afternoon, on our return car trip, Nate was extremely tired. The doctor had increased his radiation and added an x-ray appointment afterwards. When he was finally settled at home in his La-Z-Boy, he breathed a sigh of relief and began opening the mail. In it was a letter from an office colleague who loved teasing him because he loved teasing her back. She’s a woman who’s fought her own battle with cancer and can honestly say she understands.

She wrote, “This place isn’t the same without you here. Everyone asks about you all the time. You are always in our hearts. There aren’t words …”

The letter said other important things too, each line a proof of friendship. Although Nate’s day included many low points, these business friends buoyed him greatly through their calls, cards and a powerful letter. It even gave me a boost as I watched this phenomenon unfold.

As for making friends with a rock, that turns out to be a pretty good idea, because God is often referred to as The Rock, someone we can take refuge in during times of trouble. And Nate is a friend of God.

Guest contributor Margaret Nyman takes us step by step through the 42 days after her husband Nate, a patient at Rush University Medical Center, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Read more of her posts by visiting the Coping With Cancer section or subscribing to the RSS feed. Nyman’s personal blog is at

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