Who’s your rock? And gravel…

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re going to somehow get through a frightening time in your life — whether it’s health, work, family, marriage, kids’ issues — you need a rock, someone you can turn to who’s as firm and solid as a boulder, something steady and calm to lean against and take shelter behind, a fixed point you know will be there the next day and the next and the next, no matter what happens.

As I got my breast cancer diagnosis — ironically, sitting on rocks at the edge of the Hudson River in the New York town where we live — my husband Jose had just left for work in the city on the commuter train. I sat in the June sunshine alone absorbing this news, delivered by phone by my gynecologist.



Those vows include, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health…Sept. 2011


Since then, as he has been throughout our 18 years together, Jose has been my rock. For which I’m so damn grateful and so damn fortunate. He came with me to every meeting with every doctor, (and there have been five MDs), listening and taking notes as a second set of eyes and ears. I’m not a person who cries easily or often — maybe a few times a year — but in the past five months, have done a lot of that. He’s stayed steady.

There’s an old-fashioned word I really like — character. Jose has it. I’d seen it on multiple occasions as we were dating. I wanted it in my second husband, that’s for damn sure.


caitlin team

So lucky to have had the kindness of this fantastic team!


Then there’s gravel, a poor metaphor perhaps, for the pals and acquaintances whose love and sweet gestures have also proven hugely supportive, through letters, cards, calls, texts, flowers and even gifts. None of which I really expected.

Some live in distant countries. Some are editors I’ve worked with for years and have still never met. Some are women I went to school with decades ago. All of whom stepped up.

There were several putatively close friends I assumed would check in — and who proved wholly absent. That hurt. But it happens, and you have to know, especially with this disease, some people will flee and totally abandon you.

The most depressing thing I heard this summer — and it truly shocked me — is that some cancer patients have no one at all to turn to. No family. No friends. I can’t imagine facing the fears, pain, anxiety and many tests and treatments without someone who loves you sitting in the waiting room with you, driving you to appointments, holding your hand.

I recently got a call from a younger friend facing her own crisis, and was so honored and touched that she called me. I try to be a rock for the people I love. Sometimes I’ll fail them, I know.

But that’s what we’re all here for.

Be the rock.


Or be gravel.


But be there!

21 thoughts on “Who’s your rock? And gravel…

  1. Good one, Caitlin, way down south and I can still smell the gratitude. Nobody wants to be needy, it’s embarrassing, so it’s really great to have someone in your life who is willing to give without letting you feel like a chump. You’re lucky and so am I. Thanks for the friendly reminder.

    1. Thanks!

      I’ve always been (of necessity) very independent and have had to handle a lot of bad stuff alone or with a friend or two…so to have someone like Jose in my corner is a huge relief. You literally can lay your burden down.

      I also spent my adolescence being called “needy” by family who had no ability to be kind or nurture me, so that’s another issue. I know how strong I am; when I really need help, I really need help.

  2. carolyn

    I’m so happy that Jose is your rock. I spent my childhood being outwardly strong, because my family had cast me as the strong one. They still don’t understand me and see me that way. When I was diagnosed with Post Herpetic Neuralgia, my husband (who I always wondered what he would do if I became chronically ill) stepped up. Our relationship is stronger than it ever was and he is always there for me in a way that no one else ever has been. Without his strength, I’m not sure what I would do. Well…his strength and my Percocet, but that’s a whole different story. This whole opioid crisis that punishing those of us who rely on them to function and are not addicted…

    1. So sorry you are coping with such chronic pain — Percocet is serious stuff. I can’t take it as it makes me vomit. I’ve suffered chronic pain before my 2012 hip replacement ( 2 years being too scared of the surgery which went well.) and it really affects all parts of your life.

      My family has never had any interest in helping me through stuff. You get used to it but it is such a relief when someone will help.

  3. Heide

    You are extraordinary! Thank you for this beautifully written lesson that that even if we can’t be rocks, the pebbles still make a difference. Just wonderful.

  4. Whenever you talk about Jose, it gives me hope that there are good guys still out there. I love the way you too seem to support each other. And I love that you’re able to help your young friend in her crazy time. Still sending good juju every day to you . . .

  5. Ideally, yes, rocks should be there in our lives. And I am happy you have one such in Jose, and others in your friends. Let’s hope the strengths of those rocks will never be tested by dynamite.

    Here is a take I myself find a little chilling: If I can I will not divulge anything that unsettles others. Which is difficult since anyone who can read an open book will read my face. My face, well, my eyes are my giveaway. Which is why I never took up playing poker as much as the game fascinates me. Best to acknowledge our limitations. And yes, notwithstanding what I have just said, I fool people. “Deceive” was the first word that came into my mind. But that’s unkind to me since “deception” has connotation that I wish to gain something. My intent is entirely to spare others. Or, maybe, I sometimes find giving attention – comforting others as to my discomfort – one step too far. It’s one of the reasons I’d never run to my mother for anything. Because all that’ll happen is that I end up comforting HER. Which is fine. Yes, yes, yes, of course, everything is just FINE. Keep others’ illusions. Particularly if, like her, they are already with one foot out of the door (by dint of age).

    And before you quiz me on the contradiction of “open book” and “fooling others” – it helps if you live countries apart and communication largely takes place on the phone. You see, no one can read you by voice only.

    Anyway, the above sounds more dramatic than it is. I haven’t had to cope with anything [physical and its psychological knock-on effects] as you have – and expect I never will. But, yes, there are things it would be nice to share but then, in my experience, a burden shared is a burden not halved, as folklore will have you believe, but a burden doubled. The onus relieving it being on YOU.

    Affectionately for all it’s worth,

    1. That’s certainly true of some people — which is my family has never been my go-to for solace. I left my mother’s care at 14 to live with my father and his girlfriend, later his wife, who was 13 years older than I. Too old to be a sister and too young to be a mother — and never a nurturing soul.

      So being emotionally self-sufficient is familiar. This reliance on so many others (and I didn’t expect it at all) has been really helpful.

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