In March of 2020, my dear friend, Emily Garnett, was murdered by Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC). As I struggled to process my deep deep grief that also felt somehow outside the mainstream, a dear friend offered me a lifeline. Alyson Tischler responded to a comment I’d made on social media about my grief with the concept of Disenfranchised Grief, which had been shared with her by a provider. As with so many exchanges between those of us in the MBC Community, Alyson’s input gave me the language and some options for methodologies to process my grief. I’m not entirely sure which one was more important to my mental health.
As I continue to work through the loss of my dear friend and so many others in the MBC Community, I discovered with Alyson’s able assistance that the grief we carry inside the MBC Community as we lose so many every single day is affecting all of us. And so, we set up a Facebook Group to help everyone process their grief, which we called MBC Grieving Together. As a result of the discussions in that Facebook group, we discovered that there are so many grief and end of life concerns within the MBC Community that are not being addressed. The pandemic has definitely made dealing with grief more difficult with the prohibitions on gathering in person; however, the silver lining of the pandemic is that so much of the grieving process has shifted to virtual options since the “traditional” grief rituals of grieving together in person have become less and less available. Those of us who know the people we lose mainly or only in the virtual space have oddly benefitted as a result of the different world we live in.
And then Alyson died in March of 2021. She called me while I was in Key West on Spring Break with my boys and my husband to tell me that treatment was not working, that she was discontinuing any ongoing treatment, and that she wanted to say goodbye. That was our last conversation, which caught me completely off guard, and she died a few days later.
With over 114-116 people dying every day in the US of Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC), it is not surprising that those of us who are more engaged in the community will then know one or more of those people. What has made these deaths even more difficult in 2020 and 2021 is that the opportunities to have seen our dear friends in person has likely disappeared due to COVID.
For me, the last time I saw Alyson outside of zoom meetings was in December of 2019 at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) and any option to have seen her in 2020 and 2021 before her death was canceled. The grief I felt at having lost the opportunity to have given her one more hug just increases the grief at the loss of her amazingness in the world.
For the last two years, the podcast Our MBC Life has put together a “We Remember” episode, where we have an opportunity to memorialize and remember those we’ve lost. I had the opportunity to share about Alyson and also to read some poems from Anya Silver. I hope you will take the opportunity to listen and learn about the brave souls we all miss from this world.