Saturday, June 28, 2014

Thoughts On Loved Ones Telling You They Have Cancer

My Best Friend has Cancer.

She has a private blog and recently shared what it was like to tell her loved ones she has cancer.  It moved me to write this post, with her blessing.  Her account is so hard to read.  The part where she told me, well, I have a hard time remembering it.  I still feel like we are looking at someone else's story, not hers, not ours...

The girl I have grown up with.  The girl that knows my inner most secrets.  The girl that I spent countless hours with laughing, watching movies, gossiping and having sleepovers with.  The girl that stood next to me as I said my vows, the girl I stood next to when she did the same.  And then there was the day she told me she has cancer...

She had already battled with herself over surgery.  It would change her life, hopefully for the better. She questioned her choices the last time I spoke to her.  But that surgery was never completed.  "They found something on her liver.  They couldn't complete the surgery," her husband texted me.  My mind raced.  What could it possibly be?  Cancer NEVER entered my mind.  I spoke to her that night, her raspy voice sounding worried.

The next morning I went to my monthly scrapbooking crop.  I hadn't been there long and I started explaining the situation to my good friends, Susan and Sylvia.  Just moments after we started talking about what could possibly be going on, my phone rang.  It was my bestie.  I could hardly hear her over the buzz of women talking.  I walked over to a more secluded area and that's when the word came out.  CANCER.

To say I lost it, well that's a complete understatement. I can hardly remember much of it, honestly.  I know I shot my two crop-mates a look of, well, a look.  I ran outside.  I may have screamed, I know I cried.  I paced, I ran around.  But then again, maybe I didn't.  I just know the feeling of my whole self being crushed inward. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think.  This cannot be happening.  I had to get to her, and quick.  At that point Susan was already by my side.  Sylvia was packing my car with my belongings.  I don't how they knew, but they did.  I called my husband and then my aunt (who was due to meet us at the crop). I don't know what I told them.  I just told them I was driving to L.A.  I remember everyone agreed I couldn't drive, so Susan joined me.

We spent the day with her and her parents.  Listening to each conversation as she relived to diagnosis over the phone with her siblings and their spouses.  We tried to make light of everything, but that dark cloud was there, over the room.  At that point, the type of cancer was still unknown.

I don't remember driving home, going to bed or getting up the next morning. Except that all of a sudden we had a dog.  A dog?  A sweet little dog followed my husband home from his morning run.  His name was Lucky.  I truly believe this little four-legged guy to was sent to my family to bring some joy that morning. I even took pictures to send to my bestie, as she is a huge animal lover.  As soon as Lucky's owner claimed him at our home, reality truly returned.

I needed to be with her again, as much as possible.  I would eventually tell her I was afraid she would get tired of me because I couldn't get enough of her!  My aunt accompanied me that day back to Cedars, which I was again, grateful for.  I bought some nail polish to paint her toes and some cute socks for her hospital stay.  Somehow my aunt and I took a wrong turn on the way and ended up at the red carpet at the Golden Globes. Again, another distraction, a moment of laughter.

We would spend the day with her and she would receive more information about the extent of where the cancer was while we were there.  Again, as I held her hand, this was not our life. It wasn't the plan. We didn't talk about this on those long walks through the jr. high field after school each day.  We talked about our weddings, kids, what we would become.

See the thing is, cancer is not a new thing in our family.  My dear Father-in-Law, whom we saw dying in his home, hadn't been gone but about 8 months. He fought for many years, but the end was ugly to watch.  He outlived the odds.  We had many more years with him than we ever thought possible.  And yes, it was his time to leave this earth, but it still wasn't easy.  It was way too fresh at the point of her diagnosis.  During his last months, a good friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. I got to know a family where the mother was fighting the same disease.  A CHILD we know was diagnosed.

When my Father-in-Law was diagnosed, I felt so much hope.  I really did.  I clung to that and I think the whole family did. At the end, I think I started feeling a bit jaded about the whole hope thing.  The more people that were diagnosed around me, the more I felt anger and confused.

What I find interesting is that of the cancer patients I have spoke with on a deeper level (including my father-in-law), they have all said that they feel worse for the people they love and  have to share their diagnosis with than for themselves.  The people on the outside take it harder.  It makes them sad to see their family and friends hurting.  This thought hurts my heart- it's such a rollercoaster, crazy, cycle of emotion, isn't it?

My best friend has adopted the motto of, "Ain't Nobody Got Time for This."  She proudly totes a zebra striped bag (the "ribbon" of her type of rare cancer) and frequently reminds us of her ROAR (Katy Perry, anyone?).  She has always had a great sense of humor and that surely hasn't changed.  A recent text included a selfie of herself after treatment and an appointment with the biggest Debbie Downer of a doctor.  She had a sad, not impressed face. (Dr. Downer has the worst bedside manner!  I met her and she makes me very nervous!)

Her attitude has really helped me adjust mine.  I am following her lead.  We will make plans and they may look different than when we were 14, but that's okay.  Besides, did we really think we could start a successful band?

My Best Friend has Cancer, but cancer is not who she is.  She is still the hilarious, smart, pretty, fun and loving girl that has always been and always will be my BFF.

And that is the plan that I'm sticking to...
Our new best friend necklaces!

If you heard hoofbeats, what animal would you think of? A horse, right? It’s the most obvious answer. Unfortunately in the medical world not all diagnoses are horses, or the most likely possibility, and sometimes physicians need to look for the zebra, or the less likely scenario, when making a diagnosis. In the cancer world, neuroendocrine tumors are the zebras. Represented by this analogy because of their rarity, neuroendocrine tumors make up just 2% of nationally treated cancers. (From Roswell Park Cancer Institute)


Ann(grandma) said...

Oh Mamma Birdy, I laughed, I cried & I rejoiced reading this...I love you! Thank you for sharing. Cancer makes you feel so helpless but it is also very impowering in so many, many ways....NEVER ever give up, life is good!

Kristen said...

Such powerfully thoughtful words. Hugs, friend, and my prayers for both of you.