Monday, July 30, 2018

Hello Cancer, Goodbye Friends

Friends come and go throughout our lives. Some stay for a short time; others for a lifetime. Some are casual; some are close and intimate. But even those close friendships, the ones you think will be there through thick and thin, are put to the test when you are diagnosed with cancer or you become the caregiver of a cancer patient. Probably not at first, when they are eager to provide support, before things get really rough. But after a while, you notice they have moved on with their lives while you are stuck in cancer hell!

After a lot of thought about this, I have come to realize that it is not their fault alone. There is enough guilt to go around. You, the cancer patient or caregiver, are also to blame, even though it's totally out of your control. Cancer can be very destructive to, among other things, friendships, and some of those friendships will not survive. Sadly, they just become another casualty of cancer.

When my daughter Jaime was diagnosed with melanoma at age 20, she had lots of high school and college friends who were very close to her. They were precious to her, and she would do anything for them. Over her 9-year battle, many of those friends gradually drifted away. They had living life on their minds; Jaime had surviving cancer on hers. They were planning careers and weddings; Jaime was planning her next surgery or treatment plan or her funeral. 

To avoid being a downer, Jaime never let on about how bad her cancer was or how horrible she felt. She always put a positive spin on it, along with a huge smile. It was her way of coping with the nightmare she was in, but at the same time, she was sending out very confusing messages. Then she couldn't understand why her friends didn't offer the support she so badly needed. In their defense, they just didn't have a clue that she needed it. But, in Jaime's mind was the question, "What kind of friends are they?" Cancer is really good at creating emotional conflict, along with everything else.

However, I was so touched that even at their young age, some would come to the hospital during Jaime's last days and sit in the lobby or the chapel, sending notes through the nurses that they were close by but didn't want to intrude. Others would visit, and laughter and love would fill the hospital room ... until they would leave and fall into my arms in tears. One even planned a pizza party that had the nurses fuming because too many people were in the room! 

They were all so young, and death was a foreign concept. Yet some continued to keep Jaime in their lives, thoughts, and hearts throughout her journey, surrounding her with love and comfort and truly being a friend even when that became extremely difficult. You know who you are, and I am forever grateful!

As Jaime's caregiver, I was also struggling with friendships. My world had been bombarded by cancer, and caring for and making memories with my daughter was my top priority. There really wasn't room for much else. 

For a friendship to work, it really needs two people ... and I no longer could contribute. I also understand that my friends stopped calling because they were protecting themselves emotionally from the disastrous news they might hear. They no longer knew what to say or do, so it was easier for them to stay away. And I get all that. But I sure could have used their love and support during the worst days of my life. Again, cancer kept marching through our lives, leaving a path of destruction and chaos behind.

Cancer is no one's friend, and it makes having friends really complicated. Everyone handles a cancer diagnosis differently, whether you are the patient, caregiver, or friend, and friendships can be more fragile than we think. Many, including marriages, can't handle the stress that cancer creates. But the ones that can will be even stronger!  

Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna) (Remember Jaime) (Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds) (Jjem Creations) (Jjem Creations)