If you saw my Mental Health Monday video this week, you will know that I found out over the weekend that I lost a friend to breast cancer. It was normal for me not to hear from her for 3-4 months. Plus, she was dealing with a recurrence, was busy with a young son, and the last time we spoke she had said she wasn’t up for visitors, so it took me a little while to realize I hadn’t heard from her in quite some time. I was worried, so I Googled her name and her obituary came up. I had missed everything. Her last good months, her last days, her funeral. It was quite a mix of negative emotions: sadness, loss, regret, fear triggered over my own health, anger at myself for not trying harder to see her, for not reaching out more.
We don’t like to look at the negative. It’s much easier to push it aside by ignoring it or brushing it off or covering it up, trying to diminish it and therefore our pain. And that’s what I did at first. I said to myself, “Well, this is going to happen when the friends you are making are also cancer survivors”, and I quietly put my phone down and went back to watching whatever Netflix show we had on. I didn’t cry. I didn’t say anything to Jesse. I didn’t make a sound.
I can’t turn the clock back. It’s too late to go and visit, it’s too late to say goodbye in person, but it will never be too late to remember her and honour her in a way that is a hell of a lot better than trying to ignore my pain.
My therapist told me once that grief is the price we pay for the privilege of getting to experience love. My pain means she was here, she was alive, she touched my life, she made a difference, her life was real and mattered. She was a beautiful person, kind and so very sunny; her smile lit up the room. She was positive and exceptionally supportive. She stood up for me and my treatment decisions, she believed in me, she was an amazing friend. I only knew her for two years, but it felt like a lifetime. I don’t think it was the first time our souls had met.
Cancer brings so much grief with it, and not just over the loss of loved ones. It brings a lot of grief over what we lose in the process. Loss of our physical health, loss of our hair, loss of body parts. We grieve the life we had that is now gone, replaced with one we barely recognize or can believe is ours. There is grief over the loss of jobs, relationships, confidence in the future, the ability to eat and drink whatever we want without worrying about what it’s doing to our health. There is a lot of it.
But pushing it aside, covering it up, or otherwise trying to diminish it will in fact only make it stronger. That which we put away does not cease to exist; it simply bides its time, growing stronger, festering and causing emotional, mental and physical problems for us down the line. The mind-body connection is strong, and our emotions play a role in our physical health. With time, traumas that go unprocessed, ignored and growing in strength, can impact us in so many ways including illness. For those of us healing from cancer or wishing to prevent it (and everyone fits into one of those two categories), arming illness with emotional ammo is the last thing we want to do.
There is no outrunning it, only postponing it. The only way to deal with the onslaught of emotion that comes with cancer and loss is to face it head on by allowing ourselves the freedom to feel it all. Only in this way will we discover where it is coming from and what we can do about it. And maybe that is nothing. Sometimes we simply need to let emotions run their course and tire themselves out before we can release them. They say time heals all wounds, but I think it’s really the heart that does that; we just need to open up, listen to it, and give it the space it needs to do its work.
After what I plan on being a long and healthy life, I am less afraid of dying knowing that Laura will be there. That’s the kind of person she was, warm and reassuring, enough so to reduce the chill of the unknown.
This is part of one of her last emails to me:
“Rebecca!! Where do I start???!!! …..with a really big, warm, safe and reassuring hug. What a tremendous journey you have been on. It is absolutely not a coincidence that our paths have crossed and that I felt so drawn to you. You have trusted me with a lot of very personal insight into your life both emotional and physical…..this is not lost on me Rebecca. I feel very special to be a part of your circle.
I have much work to do…..ty for coming into my life and without knowing it-reminding me to trust myself and seek answers/health with unrelenting tenacity.
In the meantime – since D is vitally important for both of us – let’s pick a nice sunny day to meet for a one hour hike!”
We never did make it to that hike. Something I regret fiercely now. From what I have gathered, her pain ramped up quite a lot not long after that and she entered hospice care around that time, so a hike just wouldn’t have been possible. That doesn’t make it any less painful though. I miss my friend. I hate that I didn’t get to see her during the end of her life. I am mourning the long friendship we should have had.
Life isn’t fair and it makes no sense sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that we stop living it, that we stop feeling it, that we close ourselves off with bitterness and defensiveness. That is always an option, but it’s not the one I choose, and I hope you don’t either. All we can do is keep fighting, keep feeling, keep loving, and keep living, for all those who can’t anymore.
I will miss you Laura until the day I see you again, wherever and whenever that will be. I hope you are happy and at peace. I am, knowing that you are watching over me ❤️