How do we cope when we know someone else isn’t ok?
I started writing this almost two hours after I found out my friend was diagnosed with a treatable cancer. I didn’t know how to comprehend the thought – I’m 33 years old. I’m hardly invincible. I have hypertension, asthma, and chronic sinusitis. I need medication to control my conditions, and allergy shots to prevent bigger issues with my environmental allergies and sinus condition. I have a bad ankle and wrist. But, considering all of this, I’m healthy. I’m healthy, happy, and have a great family and more friends than I’d ever had as a kid. My life and health could be worse, it’s not. Not by a long shot.
Cancer. It’s not a big word by any means. But it’s a scary word. It’s one I hope to never hear in my lifetime, and yet, I heard it when I started writing this. From a friend. A close friend. One that I see everyday, yet live 600 miles away from. Technology bridges the divide, but our bond keeps us friends. We were strained for a few months last year, but came together after difficulties drew us to talk to each other. I’ve been convinced a higher purpose has made us friends. We only met because we had a common interest, and found a meaningful friendship.
We were chatting it up during my lunchbreak – she’s recovering from surgery, so she’s home, and I jokingly made in conversation the hashtag #WhyWeAreFriends. She laughed. A few minutes later, she told me and a mutual friend that she received the dreaded call from her doctor that she was diagnosed with cancer, and needed some time to process it.
I felt like I’d been kicked in the chest. How does this happen? I don’t wish anything on anyone (even the people I don’t like) – disease, death, hardship, anything. The reality came down around me: my friend is sick. She is sick, and here I am, 600 miles away. Nothing I can do help. Powerless. I’m beside myself at the idea that I know someone battling a disease with a terrifying name.
It hits home. It hits hard regardless of age, but even harder when it’s someone who is close enough to your own age. Everything goes through your mind, but the biggest question strikes hard: why? What did she do to deserve this? What didn’t she do? What can I do to help? What won’t help?
Well, I’ll try to answer the most obvious question: What won’t help?
It won’t help if I cry constantly. It won’t help her if I’m breaking down in front of her on the webcam, crying because I know she got this horrible, earth-shattering diagnosis. I care for her like a sister. I’m not used to being sad around her, and yet, here I am, crying for her. Crying because it’s the first reaction I have. I can’t sit and smile about it – that’s not right. So crying and being sad comes to me immediately. And I hate that, but like I said, it was the most immediate reaction. I wiped my tears (don’t want to ruin the carefully-done eye makeup). And then I’ll cry several more times that first day, and again the next. It’s ok to be sad. No one will fault me. I’m allowed to cry. I’m not crying for selfish or trivial reasons. I’m crying for a friend.
I remind myself that there is nothing people do or don’t do to deserve this. Cancer isn’t anything that anyone wishes on anyone else, and no one wishes cancer on anyone. Likewise, with my friend – she didn’t ask for it, and no one wanted it for her. She came to me one night and told me something didn’t seem right. Being a concerned individual – a friend – I talked to her, attempted to reassure. As I said, I’m 600 miles away. I can’t just run over and be with her to make sure she’s ok. So I talk to her. It’s something that comes naturally – we talk everyday. Nothing changes. If there’s a night she doesn’t want to, I don’t push it.
And why? Well, we don’t know why. And there is never an answer. There never will be. We know what it is, and we know what her prognosis is. It’s good. I’m convinced things are going to be good. I’m not particularly religious, but I call on the faith I do have to guide her through this. I pray that she stays strong. And I remind her that she’s got this. She can do it, and will do it. There is no can’t. There is no negativity. And I’ll also promise her this – I’m here for her. So is her family and all of her friends. She has so much support. She is loved. Heck, my family knows what she is going through. So she has that support too.
It goes back to my story about friendship and the significance of the friendship bracelet. The bond is even stronger now. I’ll wear it during the time she goes for treatment. And I’ll be wearing it when she is victorious. We’re looking ahead – we have plans to visit a mutual friend in the spring. It will happen. Life will go back to normal. Define that. It’s what you want it to be. And it will happen for her. And for anyone who is facing the same struggle.
The Dreaded C sucks. But it can (and will) be overcome.
Dedicated to anyone who is facing down cancer, and to the support systems that bond together in cancer’s face. Above all, it’s dedicated to my friend, my beloved (though unbiological) sister. I’ve written about how a higher purpose connected us as friends, and that’s never going to change. I’ve got your back, and I’ll always listen. What I can’t promise? The hug I give you the next time I see you won’t involve some tears mixed with my happiness.
Why promise what I can’t keep? 🙂