When I meet another BC patient, whether it’s online or in person, it becomes personal right away.
There’s a risk I take every time I get too close.
This is probably not the perfect analogy, but I remember the first time I got hurt in a relationship with an undeserving guy. I told myself, “not again!” I made my heart unavailable for a while. You don’t completely forget. But time does go by. You move on. And eventually you find someone new and give it another try, even with the realization that you could experience the same (or worse) pain again.
That’s sometimes the way I feel about other patients I come in contact with. I’ve gotten close to some. I am aware of the risks I’m taking – losing them too soon, opening myself to intense feelings and sharing and the fear that comes with that, and being reminded that their death could be my fate too.
It’s interesting how spontaneously we patients can connect with one another. Just the other day I had lunch with someone I’ve been working with for a while. I had no idea she had gone through breast cancer too. The minute we found out about each other’s diagnosis, we became closer right away. We talked openly about a lot of personal things, aside from our cancers. It felt as if we’d known each other for longer than we’d realized. And at the end of our get-together, we hugged for a while.
When we patients witness each other’s vulnerability there’s an instant level of intimacy that comes from the shared experience of having gone through cancer. It’s a unique kind of support. It’s beautiful, in a way, although the reason sucks.
Some of you might already know about Vickie Yong Wen’s passing. She wrote the blog iwantmorethanapinkribbon. Vickie died from metastatic breast cancer. Recently, I read Ann Silberman’s tribute to Vickie. In her post, Ann expresses how she had been devastated after losing her dear friend Sandy, and how she was not ready to build another relationship with another patient. In this case, the other patient was Vickie. Eventually they built their relationship but Ann was hesitant at first. I completely understand where Ann is coming from. I’ve been hurt too and sometimes I’m just scared to get too close again.
I’ve been reflecting on the risks we take when we get too close to other patients, and how we cancer patients relate to each other.
There’s the initial connection we make when we find out about each other’s health situation. We connect. Intensely sometimes. But we’re cautious. We’re also trying to live our lives as normally as possible. Although we’re glad to have met, there will always be the cancer association. We give each other space. Weeks, and sometimes months, go by before we talk again.
And then, suddenly, in my case, I develop this need to know how they are doing. They’re on my mind. I become immersed. I start to care. A lot. I want them well. I also need reassurance that if they’re doing well, that means I might be well too. And just like that, I am sucked into a situation where I know I have no control as to how it’s going to end. At the same time, I don’t want out. I am in to stay.
I consider these patients my friends. Some of those friends have died from MBC, and yet, I wouldn’t change having known them despite the hurting I’ve experienced. They all have contributed to my own recovery and I am forever grateful – Claudia, Carrie Sue, Eileen, Jeanne, Kari, Katrina, Cheryl, Lisa, Linda, Dawne, Meena, Robert, Libby, Olga, Laurissa, Doris, and my special friend Cathy. As I read this list of names, I am shocked to see how many friends I’ve lost. It’s painful for me to read this list, which isn’t even complete.
I had just started to follow Vickie’s blog last year. I can tell you that I’ve learned enough about her for her death to affect me. I admired Vickie. She advocated not just for the metastatic community, but for everyone who has been affected by breast cancer. She educated the public with facts about this devastating disease. Vickie also had a strong faith and this was one of the qualities I liked about her, as I often question mine. I learned a lot from her. I’ll miss her.
Yes, there’s a risk I take when I get too close. And I try to be fine with that. And besides, we wouldn’t feel the full spectrum of love if we didn’t open ourselves up to the point where pain was possible too.
I’ll never forget my friends.