for the week of March 12, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

The term "networking" is important to business and professional people. Having a productive circle of people around you empowers you to serve your clients or customers more effectively. It also benefits your career, of course, for colleagues in related fields to trust you enough to refer people to you.

But we are learning that it is even more important to have a network of supportive friends than to exchange business cards and prospects.

Only last Thursday (3/8/01), Karen Weihs of George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., reported new evidence that cancer survival is linked to family and friends. Her study of 90 patients with breast cancer showed that the size of a woman's circle of friends and extended family affected survival as much as the severity of her disease at diagnosis.

The subjects in Dr. Weihs' study were contacted a few months after their diagnosis. They were asked to list people outside their home they could call on for support. Network size ranged from two to ten, with an average of six. Survival odds increased along with the number of friends above six; the risk of recurrence and death grew as the number of supportive persons fell short of the average.

A network of supportive persons cut the risk of recurrence and death by fully 60% over seven years. That is a significant statistic. The study needs to be expanded, and the original 90 subjects will be followed for years to come. Yes, all the women studied had medical care, and no one claims that friendship can substitute for good medical treatment. But isn't there something important here?

Dr. Weihs appears to be pointing to something we all know: "A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity" (Proverbs 17:17, NRSV).

There is nothing evil about career advancement and making money. But if they are purchased at the expense of being an authentic human being who has a network of loving family and friends, far too great a price has been paid. Family is more important than work. Friends are more valuable than corner offices and company cars.

Do you have that magical network of six close friends? Do you know people who would name you in theirs? If so, thank God for them. If not, it's time to rethink the degree of priority you've been assigning to relationships lately.

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