A day I will never forget. A moment in time that will stay with me forever.
I got a text . . .
“Hey, I need to tell you something but you can’t call me because I am with my kids.”
“Okay, what’s up?”
“I have cancer.”
You read that correctly, she has cancer. My best friend has cancer. She is 36 years old.
Before I keep going, let me stop and say this . . . I do not and hopefully will not ever know what it feels like to have cancer, or to have to tell your friends and family that you have cancer. Regardless, I will never truly know all the thoughts and feelings and emotions running through my best friend’s mind as she journeys her battle with cancer. I won’t pretend to fully understand what she’s dealt with, what she’s dealing with. I will not take away from those who have had the tremendous burden of having to tell loved ones about the diagnosis of cancer; so I will not pretend to. All I can do is share what it feels like on the other side – as the best friend.
I met my best friend when we were fourteen years old, as freshmen in high school. She has been my best (and longest) friend for close to 22 years. She stood next to me in my wedding and I stood in hers. We have children who are one month apart in age. She has a nickname for my mother, her sister makes me laugh uncontrollably . . . her family is mine, she is part of my family. There are very few significant memories from the last 22 years that do not include her. In fact, every life changing moment since I was fourteen has included her.
And now, my best friend has cancer.
The day I found out my best friend has cancer, my life changed. I was afraid. I was afraid I would lose her, my best friend. The idea of having her by my side for the majority of the last 22 years, and then having to spend the next 22+ years without her terrified me. People say to not let fear take over, and to not live making choices out of fear, and most of the time I would agree with these sentiments. Not this time. Not this time, since I found out my best friend has cancer, and I can’t do anything to cure it or take it away for her. This time, I chose to let the fear in, feel it, understand it, and I let it change my life. There is nothing more eye opening than fear, and this fear has changed me for the better. I have come away from it a better friend and a better human.
We have always been there for each other. There to help to solve problems, to fix things. I can’t solve cancer. When she needed it most, I couldn’t fix it.
Sure, I was there when they wheeled her into surgery for a double mastectomy. Yes, I was there six hours later when they wheeled her back out. I was there when she was re-admitted two weeks later for an infection and consequently another surgery, and I was there when she made her decision about chemo. When she undergoes another surgery to remove her ovaries and Fallopian tubes, I will be there. I’ll be there as they wheel her back and when she comes out. I can’t fix it, but I’ll be there.
The thing about cancer is, that cancer is an awkward elephant in every room, ready to loom into any conversation or situation. My best friend and I share a sense of humor, and our conversations have always been full of humor, wit, and fun, it’s just how we communicate. Sure, sometimes we talk about deep emotional life stuff, but more often then not we are cracking jokes, laughing, and smiling. So, now how do we do that? How do we maintain our communication style when cancer is around? Now that we have this elephant to navigate our conversation around . . . I mean, when is it too soon for cancer jokes? Can we laugh about the funny nurses? Are we able to make light of this situation, the way we have other hard times? Is it okay to poke fun at her (a ferociously independent woman) for becoming dependent on others? Can I heckle her a little?
I think if you asked my best friend, she would tell you to please, make her laugh. One day not too long after surgery, she was standing in her kitchen giving herself antibiotic treatments through a port in her chest, when I realized that she probably didn’t want to talk about cancer anymore. She would probably rather talk about just about anything else at that point, whenever possible. And if we had to talk about cancer, we may as well make light of it . . . after all, laughter is the best medicine.
But sometimes I just want to cry.
And so I do. Hardly ever in her presence, as I never want her to feel she needs to comfort me. Despite the laughter, wit, and humor, I know she wants to cry and I hope she does. I hope she lets herself feel the feelings, knowing I’m here to talk about them – or to talk about anything else.
Watching my best friend go through cancer and being on the other side has also made me feel guilty. Truth be told, as many old friends do, we had started to drift apart over the last couple of years. I could list out an abundance of reasons why it happened, and why it’s not anyone’s fault, but at the end of the day not one them matters. The day she text me to tell me about her cancer, the fear her and the guilt I felt about us drifting apart was heartbreaking. I had been a bad friend, I had been selfish, and I had been absent from her life. I realized that I didn’t want to be absent, I wanted to be there for her, I missed my friend. At this point in her journey, some may think I’m over compensating to try and make up for those lost years, but the truth is that being at her side feels better than absence. I want her to know that no matter what has happened or will happen, she really is stuck with me now. Two years gone but a lifetime to go.
Having my best friend be diagnosed with cancer is huge. For her. And for me. Believe me when I say under no circumstance am I trying to make this about me or marginalize how huge it is for her, but my truth is that having a best friend with cancer is tough. I worry when she doesn’t answer my calls, I worry when she is tired, I worry she is over doing it, I worry she won’t let herself feel, I worry about her future… I worry.
Imagine how worried she is.
I can’t change my best friend’s cancer diagnosis. I can’t go back and change the years we lost. I can’t fix all of it, no matter how much I’d like to. What I can do is be there for her, love her, make her laugh, and let her cry. I can make sure that her side of cancer isn’t lonely. I can promise to be a better friend, and make sure that she knows she’s stuck with me through this battle with cancer, and forever. Because we’re best friends.
Beautiful! I’m a cancer survivor and I also have been the friend. <3
Nicely done Amanda, you are a true friend!
Having been in the cancer world myself, when my 4 year old was diagnosed, I want to be a great friend to anyone diagnosed with cancer cause I get it. Unfortunately.
Go ahead and make those cancer jokes- it can lighten a horrible moment or make someone remember how cheesy you are 🙂