When I get too close

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.


About thesmallc

I'm Rebeca. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. But there's more to my story: I am an animal lover. I love to cook. I have a wonderful fiancé who doesn't mind walking my rocky path with me. We currently live in New York. ---------------------------------------- “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
This entry was posted in Awareness, c World, Coping after cancer, Reflections, Support and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to When I get too close

  1. Susan says:

    I really relate to all of this. Because I have so many advocate friends with mets, it’s so hard. Plus since my 2x diagnosis (no mets yet-fingers crossed) I lost my best friend who went through treatment with me at the same time who later progressed- then my father died (cancer) older brother, next friend, and then we’re counting too many to the point where it’s hard to get on FB to see who died today – it’s heartbreaking. We try to balance our lives for our friends going through this. The pain of being too close really stings especially when the closest die so soon. Thank you for writing this poignant post. 😇💜💕

    • thesmallc says:

      Susan, I am sorry you’ve lost some friends and family members to this damn disease. It doesn’t get any easier either. Each loss hits hard, especially when it takes those closest to you. I have a hard time accepting this and it continues to shock me. Thank you for stopping by. And please stay well. xoxo

  2. bethgainer says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    This post really resonates with me. I’ve lost too many friends to cancer. It’s horrible, and like Susan says, it’s so difficult to see who died via Facebook. I got close to my friend Faun; we were both supposed to be “cured,” we thought. But there is no cure, and she developed mets. And died. And I still feel lost without her. My friend Virginia died from leukemia. Heartbreaking. I’m glad that I proved to be a great friend, embracing them both and helping them. However, I know it’s so difficult to get close to others in the cancer realm. Sometimes I think, maybe I shouldn’t get too close, but it happens. I don’t regret the friendships that ended with death. To me, they are still my forever friends, and it’s amazing how much love a heart can hold.

    Excellent post on a great topic.

    • thesmallc says:

      Beth, I remember your friend Faun. I am so sorry you lost her (and about Virginia too). The most difficult thing is not been able to change things. We sort of have to watch and try to hold their hands in the process of pain. Like you I have no regrets about getting closer to some patients. This is life. This is reality.

      You stay well my friend. xoxo

  3. Mandi says:

    I wouldn’t trade my metastatic friendships for the world, no matter how much I am devastated by a loss. My friendships means so much to me and I know it would hurt my feelings is someone chose not to be my friend because I have cancer.

    • thesmallc says:

      Mandi, I am with you. I had a couple of people walk away when I was dx and finally one reached out to me saying that she did not mean to. She could not handle my situation at the time. I was not completely disappointed with her but it hurt me at the time she did not reach out to me. Now that she told me her reason, although I wouldn’t do that to my friends, it made things clearer for me. I also think it’s easier for someone who has gone through cancer to keep relationships with other patients. But when those are your friends walking away (or family)…well…that hurts. I am glad to have found you. You’ve also educated me. I just wish, in my heart, we could ALL do well. It’s hard. xoxo

  4. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  5. I definitely relate to this. Vickie actually lived about a 10-15-minute drive from me. We had planned on more than one occasion to get together, but due to her health, or mine, or our conflicting schedules, it never happened. At one point I was aware of feeling relieved because I afraid to get too close. I knew I didn’t have any more physical or emotional energy to hurt. And I’ve lost so many people over the last few years. It’s all so very sad. Thanks for addressing a very sensitive topic that’s hard to discuss sometimes.

    • thesmallc says:

      Eileen, I am sorry for the delay in replying to you. I have the same situation with someone who lives a few minutes away from me, and we do talk from time to time, but somehow never commit to meeting up. Like you, I’ve felt like my energy is running out. I do allow myself to rest and take short breaks for my own sanity. I think we all understand. I hope you’re doing well. xoxo

  6. The Accidental Amazon says:

    Oh, so true. We end up in a state of near-constant grief and heartbreak. And yet, and yet… Like you said, I am so glad to have gotten to know such amazing, wise, wonderful women, and my life is richer for them. I had only recently begun to get to know Vickie, and I only wish I’d known her longer. Hugs to you, my friend.

    • thesmallc says:

      Hi Kathi. Vickie reminded me of a very special aunt I have who went through leukemia three years ago whose faith is extremely strong. Vickie’s kindness also reminded me of her. We all wish we all did well. One of the hardest things is to lose a friend to the same disease we have. It doesn’t get any easier. You stay well, my friend. xoxo

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