I promised you I would be as honest and raw as I can be. I am confident many will read this and start to question themselves so I want to preface this with telling you, I am not seeking your guilt or a random apology. I am also going to tell you that I don't fault you for anything I am about to say. I don't expect you to know any better, until you read this. What I do know, is that I am 100% confident I am speaking up for so many women right now, and for that alone, it makes this worth every word.
I've been called self centered, by a close family member, during a very vulnerable time in my journey. Through all of the self growth I have done, I have tried to figure out in what world of hers, she would consider me self centered. Per the definition, I am certainly not pre-occupied with myself. In fact, I have always put others first. I have never enjoyed being the center of attention or to have the focus of anything be solely on me. I finally came to the conclusion that she just simply doesn’t know me - nor has she truly taken the time to get to know me. I didn't ask for this cancer the first time, and I certainly didn't ask for it the 2nd. The last thing I ever wanted was for my husband of 2 years to be feeding me, to be draining tubes coming out of my breasts, or to shower me while I stood there in complete humiliation. If thats what one would consider "self-centered" or being “pre-occupied with myself", then I guess I fall right in to that category. For the record, I am very aware of how inaccurate that statement is and I don’t, for one second, believe that to be a characteristic I embody.
There are so many unseen angles of a cancer diagnosis, whether it be from a caregiver, a friend, or the patient. I can only speak from my angle as a patient and I don't expect a caregiver or friend, no matter how close or not, to understand fully what I am about to say.
Sharing thee pictures below is hard. It’s hard to look back at those eyes. The drug-filled, fentanyl, Vicodin, Tylenol, chemo-eyes that didn't have a clue what was going on around me. I can only imagine how hard it was for others to look at me like this. As for me, at the time, I don’t think I even realized what I looked like. I was just doing my best to breathe and stay alive. My friends would visit me, force me to laugh, send me cards, drop things off at my doorstep, check in on me...all of it. While overwhelming at times, it meant a lot to me, and not because I am "self-centered,” but because when I felt like my world was falling apart, I was reminded I was still loved. All of those sweet gestures, were exactly what I needed at the moment.
Then one day, I “appeared” healthy, and POOF, many were gone. So I ask the question: Did you forget about me?
I say "me" but I am referring to anyone who has had cancer or who is battling a stage iv diagnosis. Where did you go? There is such a dramatic drop off when someone seems well. It leaves us feeling isolated, not good enough—like we did something wrong. At the time we appeared sick, you were there ALL of the time, but when we appeared well again, you were gone. Was our friendship only important when we appeared ill? No one is expecting dinner to be dropped off at our doors, or the many other amazing blessings given during our extreme time of need to continue. In fact, it is an extremely humbling experience to have to ask for help when we are already feeling like such a burden to everyone, but where did that friendship go? We think about how special those people are to us, how they showed up during a time of need, a time of extreme vulnerability, sat next to us, how much it meant, and how much they must care to go out of their way to support and love us at our worst; we begin to love and care for them back and they become a special part of our journey to healing. Maybe we even make a new friend or form new, deeper relationships.
Then it happens. We appear healthy again, as if our lives are back to "normal" but "normal" is no longer a term we understand. You disappear. Just like that, we feel a sense of abandonment, like we lost a friend. Maybe we feel like we were such a burden during our time of illness, and you've given all you can give to the friendship in that moment. I guess thats understandable and I believe every moment in life serves a specific purpose. The choice or action to disconnect, isn't one I will ever understand being in my circumstances, and I know I speak for others when I say WE don't understand it. That being said, I give grace to our co-survivors and friends. In fact, I am genuinely happy you don't understand what I am feeling. I hope you never do. I am not mad at you for this either. I do, however, know this is a topic that comes up more frequently than anything else, and for that reason, I am sharing my thoughts and speaking up for those who hold them inside.
Regardless of the appearance you made during my time of need, I am thankful for you. Whether it be dropping off a meal, a gift basket, or sitting by my side... you mean something to me. I haven't forgotten you. I don't necessarily think you have "forgotten" about me either. I just want there to be an understanding of the dramatic change we may experience in being surrounded with so much love when we appear ill, to then feeling that sense of abandonment, and how that might affect us mentally—it’s not a matter of attention or being self-centered. It's who we become after a cancer diagnosis. We change. Relationships become special to us. Who we let in during this time, is a big deal to us. We feel the internal change and it sometimes makes us question if the change we go through is one that you don't want to be a part of, or one that might be too much of a burden for you. While we are working on discovering who we are, we are also processing who you want to be in our lives, or who you were for that matter. Will you still be there? Will you only come around when I look sick? Am I only worth messaging when the news is bad? Will you be there to celebrate my triumphs AND my tragedies? Will you love me as I heal? Can you love the new person I have become?
No matter what capacity you choose to be there for me, know that I appreciate you. Know that I wont forget that gesture regardless of the size. You mean something to me.
If you are a caregiver, co-survivor, friend, or even an acquaintance, I encourage you to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Tell them you still love them. Tell them you are still there for them. Love them THROUGH it all not just in the moment. Don’t allow things to go unsaid or the possible guilt you may feel from not reaching out in awhile, hold you back from checking in or sending that card. It means something. It means more than you could even comprehend. It's not because we need or crave the attention. Attention is the exact opposite of what most of us want. For me, I just want to know that our friendship means as much to you, as it means to me. It's that simple.
Cancer is a lifelong battle, even more so for those of us with Metastatic Cancer. It's never going to go away. I will live with this for the rest of my life. I cherish my time with you. I cherish our memories.
Speaking on behalf of many Warriors, I just ask that you please not forget the journey we have been through. Give us grace. Continue to be there for us. You mean something and we wont ever forget the special place you had in our lives - please don't forget us.