On Surviving the Death of Friends

Before my diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) in 2017, I had weathered the deaths of both grandfathers and a handful of other elderly relatives who I vaguely knew. While hard and often life changing, these deaths were in different generations than mine and although some were abrupt, all of these family members lived good long lives.

And now, after five (5) years of living with MBC, I see the posts/texts/messages about the deaths of friends nearly daily. Since we lose over 40,000 men and women yearly in the US to mbc, it stands to reason that I’ve run across some of them a time or two or more. Getting to know other people with cancer (a/k/a carcinomies on Twitter) just means there are more to mourn.

The sad fact of the matter is that those of us with cancer, especially metastatic cancer, are genuinely not long lived. Many of those of us diagnosed under 40 are especially unlucky with time. And every person we lose is special, unique, worthy, loved and missed every day.

I am certainly not an expert on losing people I love dearly; at the same time, after weathering the loss of so many friends, I’ve developed a few habits that I think have served me well.

Here’s my top 5:

  1. Don’t leave anything unsaid. I am not a particularly demonstrative person (except for gift giving) and prior to my MBC diagnosis, I’d really only told my family that I love them. Now, I’m so much more comfortable telling people how much I love them, how they are appreciated and how I value them. It’s not always easy for me to do this but knowing that the people I love know that is a big deal to me.
  2. If someone needs help, I try to never miss an opportunity to lean into the community. Sometimes that’s with funds, sometimes connections, sometimes advice or talking to someone on their behalf and always holding space. If there is something we can do to help, there is no sense in waiting or holding back.
  3. I pay attention to those who stop posting on social media. While sometimes this is just a break from online interaction, it is also sometimes much worse. Keeping tabs on those people I care about is key for me in not missing the chance to help or to support someone who is dear to me.
  4. I try to get to know family members of those I care about. Ok, this one can be weird, especially when friending or following another woman’s husband on social media; at the same time, those are often the people who are able to respond when someone takes a turn for the worst. The kiddo/furry people pictures are just a bonus.
  5. When a friend or dear one has been murdered by cancer, their legacy is something I try to continue and/or contribute to. Sometimes that’s picking up a project that was important to them, sometimes painting a rock in rememberance, sometimes marking their birthday or important days on social media to remember their lives and always always using the grief to fuel my advocacy.

I don’t think anyone gets used to dealing with the deaths of so many friends. Pretty sure that would make us sociopaths or something equally sinister but it is also true that some deaths hit home more than others. Maybe we had a special connection with the person like I did with Emily Garnett or maybe their lives parallel ours pre or during or post cancer treatment. Maybe we met them in the infusion room or started the same meds at the same time. Maybe we knew each other from before cancer and our kids went to school together.

Some deaths are just more heavy.

The sad fact of the matter is that those of us in the cancer community who are connected to others will suffer loss, suffer unimaginable grief, over and over and over again. To remain connected, to remain open to connecting to others, and to cultivate those connections when we know we will lose that person, takes a special brand of courage and resilience. I promise I’m not patting myself on the back here, this is HARD work.

I have learned that when we love big, we grieve in proportion to that love. It may come out of nowhere and it may be inexplicable on the outside to be flattened by the death of someone we’ve never met in person. What I know is that it’s worth it, every damnable excruciatingly beautiful awful time.

To read other posts I’ve writen about grief and managing the losses in the MBC community, check out these posts:

4 thoughts on “On Surviving the Death of Friends

  1. “When we love big, we grieve in proportion to that love” This is so very true! We never get over our loss, we go through it! Love to you for helping so many of us! Thank you for being a friend!!!❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️👵🏻

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes, my family and friends were surprised at my reaction when I lost my first BC friend, many of them still not getting it even after I explained. Fortunately my partner did (and does) understand. It must be even harder when your reach is so wide. My sympathies.

    Liked by 1 person

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