The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I only told a handful of people. I was faced with the choice between a lumpectomy and radiation or a mastectomy. I wanted to make this choice with as little “noise” as possible. Instead, I wanted to rely on my doctors’ guidance, my intuition, and my faith.
I didn’t announce my breast cancer diagnosis until 12 days after I had my bilateral direct-to-implant amputation. I was bombarded with medical appointments and anxiety leading up to surgery day. After that, I had a six week recovery. I felt it was best to take the time to process what had happened and happened to me before bringing others on my journey.
I spent an hour composing and editing a post on my personal social media account. I told them I had breast cancer, then surgery, and then I got the good news that I had NED (no evidence of disease). Despite all the good news I had received, my recovery would be long and difficult. Plus, I’d been through trauma — and I knew my mental health would take much longer to heal than my physical.
After posting, I got a lot of supportive, encouraging responses. Some friends brought us food, made coffee on our porch, offered to babysit our kids, and asked if we needed a ride to medical appointments. I was surrounded by people who loved and cared about us. But not everyone in my circle was so nice.
Three friends shocked me after I posted that I had breast cancer. None of them faded too slowly. This was cold ghosting. There one day, gone the next. It took me years to get over their absence, which really felt like betrayal and abandonment. I asked myself over and over, who dumps a friend with breast cancer?
I think one of two things could have happened. The first is that these three women were never my real friends to begin with. I think of friendships a bit like marriages. We have vows, although they are not pronounced before a congregation. True friends should die, richer or poorer, and certainly in sickness and health. Divorce shouldn’t just come up on the table, but in our case, this is the option they chose.
“I don’t know why they dumped me, but I suspect for some people the proximity of mortality is too much for them.”
I was already experiencing anger with my own body deciding to go rogue and somehow let cancer in. How could these women just dump me, like we didn’t have a history together – and honestly, what I thought was a good history? I was at one of their weddings and served as a bridesmaid. I helped organize a baby shower for someone else. I went to their children’s birthday parties and then stayed to clean up empty cups and cake crumbs. These were women with whom I exchanged intimate details – not just acquaintances. I spent too much time wondering if I was too much or what was wrong with me.
Finally I realized I hadn’t done anything wrong. After all, I didn’t choose cancer. Also, excuse me that my life-threatening illness interrupted our good times? I wasn’t the problem.
This prompted me – and please bear with me – to have empathy for these women. I don’t know why they dumped me, but I suspect for some people the proximity of mortality is too much for them. This is the second reason why I think some friends may be abandoning those who are in a health crisis. You know, the idea of ’too close for comfort’. Maybe something about the fact that I got cancer made them feel like they just couldn’t handle being my friend anymore. For their own mental stability, they chose to say goodbye to me – abruptly.
Still, they should be the bravest on this journey, right? I’m supposed to be the patient – fight, rest and heal. They would come with cinnamon buns, offer to clean our house and send a funny card. But they didn’t, and I had to accept it.
In my weeks and weeks in my bed recovering, I wanted to reach out to them and find out what went wrong. But the more my body healed, the stronger my mind became. I knew it wouldn’t be healthy for me to chase these women and beg them for an explanation. And what if I didn’t like what they had to say? I knew I needed to spend my energy fighting cancer and recovering from surgery — not slamming down their doors and pathetically begging for answers.
It’s been five years since I first got breast cancer. Three years after my initial diagnosis, I had a recurrence in my chest wall. More operations, twelve chemotherapy, thirty-three radiation treatments and a year of immunotherapy followed. I am exhausted and grateful.
I look back at the three that haunted me, and I sometimes wonder how they are doing now. Has enough time passed that if we saw each other, there would be a friendly understanding between us? I’m not sure. I do know that I am a very different person now than I was five years ago, and I imagine they are too.
I have chosen to forgive them silently and silently. They never came up to me and apologized or explained why they ghosted me, and I don’t expect that at this point. I have forgiven them for the sake of my own healing, but clearly I have not forgotten – and I never will.
I wish them the best in their lives – wherever they are and whatever they are doing. (Maybe they’re even reading this?) I hope whatever caused them to dump me in my time of need is resolved. Breast cancer has taught me that life is too fragile and unpredictable to hold on to what is not right.
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