I remember the beginning of my face to face relationship with my daughter. The nurse put her in my arms. “Welcome to the world,” I said as I placed a tender kiss on her forehead. She was an utterly perfect clean slate full of infinite possibility.

As she grew, she changed and so did our relationship. By the time she was a four year old, she was lively, happy, brilliant, confident, independent but connected, and as sweet as could be. “This little girl is going to change the world someday,” I found myself thinking. She was a slate full of infinite happy and healthy positives.

Many parents of challenging teens rhapsodize about their children when they were younger and perhaps even exaggerate. But I can tell you, I was not alone in being in awe of this child and no, I’m not just talking about her loving father, my husband, John.

A major parenting challenge is when the slate of possibilities changes, for some children earlier than others but for most it certainly changes in adolescence. Teens create consequences, short and long-term than they can’t really fully appreciate as they are putting actions in motion. In other words, a common part of growing up is making foolish decisions that could make adulthood much different.

The slate gets dirty. There are still good possibilities but some scary painful possibilities join them. When we love our children and hold their happiness and dreams in our hearts, it can be all too easy to focus on the dirty parts of the slate. Plus, since adolescence is even harder for the teen than the parent, we get the punched in the gut feeling as we watch them struggle through tumultuous times.

I love my girl. She is still brilliant and lively. She is not always happy. She has highs and lows of confidence. She is still super sweet deep down and it is not rare for it to bubble back up to the surface. But to be honest, it is sometimes anxiety-provoking to introduce her to my friends. There is that worry that she will be obnoxious, provocative, anxious, or lacking in manners. She doesn’t really adjust her behavior much based on whether she is with adults or peers. You could be the Queen of England and there would be a chance that she would greet you with a brain rattling belch.

But the truth is that as unpredictable as she can be, adults actually tend to like her. I know that part of the embarrassment on my part, is the common sense that one’s child is the product of parenting. But that’s not all of it. I think that another piece is that she is different than she used to be and as she moves forward, her fate is less and less subject to my influence and protection.

The slate I see when I view my daughter is no longer clean. It is full of known positives, known negatives, and much gray that has not yet been elucidated by time. I look at her and I just don’t know. She is not like the joyful curious 4 year-old for whom my husband and I were the center of the universe. Time can take her away from her wishes and dreams. It can take her away from her own compass of right and wrong. It can take her away from us. It is very scary.

As a breast cancer patient, I have often felt like an adolescent. I have oft written about how the integration of cancer into my identity calls back to the original phase of my identity development during adolescence and early adulthood.

I have been reflecting a lot about my long time relationships and how breast cancer, and how I have changed in response to it, has impacted them. I am not the same person as I was before. And the slate of possibilities for my life has been dirtied by breast cancer. I realize that some have responded to me like a changeable teen. It is not a constant, but there is strain on some of my relationships and it is palpable. With some people I can feel it in my gut, even over two years past diagnosis. I am engendering fear through my association with cancer.

I have made a number of new friends through my breast cancer blogging. Sometimes these friendships seem like a vacation away. There is ease to them at times that is rare in most of my close relationships. I have been very grateful for this but at the same time, it’s seemed a little odd. And I think given how much writing there is in the breast cancer community about the perceived realness of cyber friendships, I believe I am not alone.

One of the reasons that it feels odd is that I feel small but perceptible twinges of disloyalty to my long time friends. Whee! Cyber-friends all the way!! Mostly, I have tried to appreciate and nurture friendships regardless of their origin and focus my efforts on those that are mutually supportive.

It occurred to me today that one of the reasons that new friendships have been so important to me is that none of them knew me before cancer. None of them have had to incorporate this into a pre-existing concept of me. So even though cancer is on my slate, I started with a dirty slate.

During most of my adult life, I have introduced myself to others with a smile and a handshake. I may talk about the weather or about casual pleasantries. As a blogger, I introduce myself to others with my illness. “Hi, I am a cancer patient. I write about personal and painful things. To relieve my anxiety about this, I sometimes make boob jokes.” Despite the the fact that I lead with my disease in this way, I have become part of an amazing community of people, which has led to other connections outside of the community. What a wonderful gift indeed.