A PSA about friendship and cancer
When you think of ‘losing friends to cancer’ it sounds like the person died.
But there’s another way to lose a friend to cancer,
and unfortunately it’s heartbreakingly common.
Whenever you go through a big change (like cancer, divorce, marriage, moving), there will inevitably be a friend who just opts out. They aren’t up for dealing with the trauma that your crisis evokes for them in their own lives.
Leaving you to agonize over ‘what did I do?’, ‘what did I not do?’, ‘how can I fix it?’ and to generally feel like an awful friend, because if you weren’t an awful friend, why would someone you love kick you out of their life with no warning?
I’ve heard this before, and I didn’t really think much about it. Until now. Because what I didn’t realize, is that sadly, this is likely to be someone really close to you, not just an acquaintance.
I was just bombed with the heartbreaking loss of a soul sister, a decades long friend, who ‘doesn’t want to invest in this relationship anymore’.
And so, through my hurt and dismay, the most constructive thing I can do with this loss is hold it up as an example and hope it can spare someone some heartbreak.
A friend who loves you for exactly who you are is the most precious gift in the universe that should never be thrown away if you can possibly avoid it.
Of course, I will never know that it was cancer that caused this. People don’t like to think that that’s why they do this kind of thing. But out of the blue after many years of wonderful times together, and despite my worries over what I did to cause this, that’s how I’m calling it. Yet another reason that cancer sucks.
So consider this a Public Service Announcement.
Your friend with cancer (or other hard thing) did NOT do this to YOU.
She is not as focused on you because
• she’s fighting for her life, and
• all the other things that are truly essential to her family are way behind and it’s going to take most of a year to catch up,
• she thinks of you often and does reach out, even if you are not counting it as ‘enough.’ When we want more from someone, ‘enough’ can be a very elusive quantity.
So what if you ARE overwhelmed by a friend’s trauma?
• De-escalate the friendship to the lowest common denominator. Just sending each other stupid stuff that makes you both laugh and nothing else is enough.
• Say you’re having a hard time dealing with it, that it’s traumatic for you. Then you’re in it together and can say ‘stupid f*ing trauma’ and take the power out of that thing that’s happened.
• Keep the kernel of what you both like together, and just do that.
• Resist the nuclear option of excommunication. It actually takes more work to keep someone out of your life, than it does to resolve or narrow the relationship.
When cancer (or other big trauma) happens to you, it happens to your friend too. That’s the sad reality. Which is why, as hard as it is to go back when trust is broken like this, I will always love this person and her family, and hope that in time we can find some way forward.