When a friend is dying

Before my diagnosis of Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) in 2017, death wasn’t a concept that had been a significant part of my life experiences. I lost a few grandparents and other extended family as I aged but they were elderly and ill and they were, arguably, ready to be done with living with their physical limitations.

Dealing with the constant death and decline in the MBC community is a very different thing. It’s not generally common within the expected life experience to receive a text from a thirty-something friend that reads something along these lines:

“I’m afraid I might be slowly starting to die.”

A variety of responses occurred to me. You see, those of who are also terminal, we think about this a lot. We talk about death and preparing for death a lot. Yet, for us too, when it’s more immediate for someone else, it’s both difficult to know what to say and it’s also triggering. Triggering our own fears and other feelings about death, our own death.

In this situation, I swallowed my own fear and complicated feelings about my own death and I entered into the discussion. I asked questions, I tried my best to empathize and then I got on Amazon and ordered her some things to make her feel more comfortable. As I’ve often said, I’m a do-er and I show most often love to those around me by doing/giving something.

And then I cried.

I cried for my friend, her family, her friends and I cried because this isn’t the last conversation I will have with someone with the same disease that I have about how their death is imminent. I cried for myself and my children and my family because before long, that will be me. I cried because the world will be less bright when my friend leaves. I cried because so many people and companies don’t allocate resources and services the way they should for terminal patients. I cried and cried.

After I cried until there were no more tears left, it was my instinct to simply curl up and sleep the day away. It was my instinct to withdraw from the support groups where I interact with patients who are actively dying. It was my instinct not to say anything, not to reach out for help.

Why?

Even after nearly three (3) years of living with terminal cancer, I still find it hard to ask for help. Any kind of help. My mom is really good at intuiting that I need something; much better than I am and I appreciate that. I think others around me don’t often know when I’m struggling or how to help. I know that I often project that I don’t need help and that means I don’t experience the help that could be offered to me.

And I know that addressing a problem begins with admitting there is an issue.

With that in mind, it’s true, I need help. I’m dying. My life won’t end tomorrow or even next week or even, God willing, next year. But I have a less than 25% chance of living two (2) more years. It’s a sobering reality that I live with every day and I talk about with others who are metastatic, but I don’t always remember that healthy people need to hear this too.

I’m a capable, resilient person and it kills me to admit that I can’t do everything, but it’s true, I can’t. I also know that when others are given the opportunity to love on others, to meet the needs of a member of their community, it truly is a win for everyone. I’ve done my best to do that for my community and I’m used to jumping in to help. I just need to remind myself that asking for help is not a bad thing and that there are others out there who love to help as much as I do.

Asking for help doesn’t equal failure in some way, it just means acknowledging the fact that we’re human and humans need help.

Does anyone know if there is a support group for people who don’t like asking for help? Asking for a friend …

47 thoughts on “When a friend is dying

  1. Yaaaah i wondered that i always wants a story like you, from where i can feel the feeling of a person who surviving from cancer i think to be a patient of cancer is not danger then the fear of death every second. What’s that situation are when a person starts thinking that he will be going to die 😵😵

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  2. I also have had a problem of accepting help. Then I realized that I loved helping people, not only to assist but also the act of giving leaves such a warm feeling for myself. When one provides help, one is serving a greater good to a larger realm. I do not feel smug, but rather a sense of connectivity that giving provides. Then it occurred to me that others want this feeling for themselves. Gradually I have accepted offers of help so that feeling can be reciprocated. Next step is for me to learn the art of asking for help. Baby steps!

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  3. You always raise questions that I have to ponder. I was raised to be self-sufficient. Asking for help seems needy and not self-sufficient, although it’s really not. It goes along with all the ways we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Not a weakness but a strength.

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  4. But Abi… you admit to needing help, but fail to tell us how! I love you, friend. I made a donation today to Metavivor in your honor. I doubt this is the kind of help you need in your current sadness, but I hope it will encourage you.

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  5. I consider myself resilient, but when I was diagnosed Stage 4 after 6 years of being FINE and feeling FINE, and when shit was happening with my job, and my daughter, I knew I needed someone to help me. So I did get a therapist who’s been a wonderful help. Doesn’t mean that I don’t sink into dark thoughts (like last night), but at least I have some tools to help me climb out when I sink.

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  6. John’s Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore is the best hospital in the world, and they have a cancer center, and support groups. Since they have patients from everywhere maybe there is a network of support with someone close to you.

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  7. My throat is choked up after reading this Abby. You probably don’t need more suggestions. Perhaps speaking w your mom who is able to intuit you well, every evening (or your hubby) and identifying as much as you hate to, where you want (foreign as that feels) help the next few days. Have a list only for that purpose. I do not have cancer but I have never known how to ask for help. a zillion hugs and helps to you.

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      1. Yeah! You look like you know how to have a good time. Had any adventures lately? I was hoping we would match. 🙂 Looks like you enjoy a lot of the things I do. Like your profile pictures. It Makes me think you know what you’re about. Hey! Funny meeting you on here.

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  8. I hope for you Abagail it was a help even saying you need help and I’m sure it’s true that those around you don’t know when you need help …..would you be able to tell them. Take Care Mary B xx

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  9. I would like to say something but im not capable of words worthy enough…I was watching 47 Ronin a couple of nights ago and I cried a sobering cry. my heart wept for the men and families condemned to die. the movie left me with an impression of these words….

    ” this life is merely a preparation for the next. be sure to love and be loved while we are here.”

    im sorry to hear of your pain, your families pain, and your friends

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi Abigail,

    First of all, I’m sorry about your friend. I’m sure she appreciates all the help you have given and will give her. It’s so hard to witness declining health of those we care about. Sadly, it happens all too often in the breast cancer community. Add to that, your own diagnosis, well, it’s a lot. No wonder you cried all those tears.

    As for asking for help, I don’t know why it’s so hard to do. I wonder if it’s extra hard for women. Even at our healthiest, there’s an expectation we should be able to do it all. Reality is, no one can. Recognizing that you need help and then asking for it, is actually a sign of strength. Plus, as you said, helping makes those doing the helping feel better. So it is a win win. Still, it’s hard to ask.

    I appreciate you writing about yet another difficult topic. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Thanks for sharing. I really don’t like relying on others either. It hasn’t happened a lot since I was a kid. But I suppose those times may come at some point. I do think in my own life, I’ve enjoyed giving more than receiving. So… maybe that’s true for others as well. I see that logically, but it’s hard to contemplate.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hello Abigail! This past April my dear forever friend, Tammy, joined the Angels after her valiant fight with MBC. I miss her beyond words. She often expressed to me the same dilemma about asking for help. Then, a few years into her diagnosis, I suddenly lost most of my vision and literally for months needed help with everything. Yes! Everything. We commiserated often. We were both humbled. While my bilateral retina detachments, multiple surgeries, a facedown protocol and drops for ten months cannot compare to an I imminently scary diagnosis, the needing help then and to this day and for the rest of my life are very similar. I’m blessed to have family and friends who have carried me through the darkest time of my nearly 60 years. I’ve tried to take a different approach to asking for help the past few months. It does get easier. However, I do appreciate it when someone contacts me and instead of asking me what I need help with,must tells me or invites me to tag along on their errands or adventure. I used to be the person who would just be in someone’s driveway with a casserole or a bag of Kleenex and toilet paper (lol) or just plan an outing for a grieving friend and tell them what time to be ready for my arrival to pickup them. Tammy and I often talked about how something which seemed so easy was difficult. I wish you well and send prayers for good days and outpouring of help when you least expect it!

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