I didn’t announce my breast cancer diagnosis until twelve days after I had my bilateral direct-to-implant mastectomy. I was bombarded with doctor appointments and anxiety leading up to the day of surgery. After that, I had a six-week recovery. I felt it was better to take the time to process what had happened and was happening to me before bringing other people along on my journey.
I spent an hour drafting and editing a post on my personal social media account. I shared that I had breast cancer, then surgery, and then received the happy news that I was NED (no evidence of disease). Despite all the good news I had received, my recovery would be long and difficult. Also, I had experienced trauma and knew that my mental health would take much longer to heal than my physical health.
After posting, I received many supportive and encouraging comments. Some friends brought us dinner, left coffee on our porch, offered to watch our kids, and asked if we needed any rides to medical appointments. I was surrounded by people who loved and cared about us. But not everyone in my circle was so kind.
Three friends ghosted me after I posted that I had breast cancer. None of them faded slowly, either. That was a cold ghost. There one day, gone the next. It took me years to get over his absence, which honestly felt like a betrayal and an abandonment. I asked myself, time and time again, who leaves a friend with breast cancer?
I think one of two things could have happened. The first is that these three women were never my real friends to begin with. I see friendships a bit like marriages. We have vows, even if they are not spoken in front of a congregation. True friends should ride or die, for richer or poorer, and definitely in sickness and in health. Divorce shouldn’t be on the table, but in our case, that’s the option they chose.
“I don’t know why I was abandoned, but I suspect that for some people the proximity to mortality is too much for them.”
I already experienced rage at my own body that decided to go rogue and somehow let the cancer in. How could these women leave me, like we didn’t have a story together, and frankly, what I thought was a good story? I was at one of his weddings, playing as a bridesmaid. I helped throw a baby shower for another. I attended their children’s birthday parties, and stayed afterwards to clean up empty cups and cake crumbs. They were women with whom I exchanged intimate details, not just acquaintances. I spent too much time wondering if it was too much or what was wrong with me.
Eventually, I realized I wasn’t doing anything wrong. After all, I didn’t choose cancer. Also, excuse me that my life-threatening illness interrupted our good times? I wasn’t the problem.
This led me to have empathy for these women, and please bear with me. I don’t know why I was abandoned, but I suspect that for some people the proximity to mortality is too much for them. This is the second reason I think some friends may abandon those in a health crisis. You know, the “too close for comfort” idea. Maybe something about my cancer triggered them to the point where they just couldn’t handle being my friend anymore. For their own mental stability, they chose to terminate me abruptly.
However, they should be the brave ones on this trip, right? I’m supposed to be the patient: fight, rest and heal. They’re supposed to show up with cinnamon buns, offer to clean our house, and send a funny card. But they didn’t, and I had to accept it.
I wanted, during my weeks and weeks lying in my bed recovering, to contact them and find out what went wrong. However, the more my body healed, the stronger my mind became. I knew it wouldn’t be healthy for me to chase after these women and beg them to give me an explanation. Also, what if I didn’t like what they had to say? I knew I needed to spend my energy fighting cancer and recovering from surgery, not banging on their doors and pathetically begging for answers.
It has been five years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three years after my first diagnosis, I had a chest wall recurrence. More surgeries, twelve rounds of chemotherapy, thirty-three radiation treatments and a year of immunotherapy followed. I am exhausted and grateful.
I look back at the three who ghosted me, and sometimes I wonder how they are now. Has enough time passed that if we met, there would be a good understanding between us? I’m not sure. I know I’m a very different person now than I was five years ago, and I imagine they are too.
I have chosen to forgive them in silence and in private. They never came to me and apologized or explained why they ghosted me, nor do I expect them to at this point. I forgave them for the sake of my own healing, but obviously, I haven’t forgotten and I never will.
I wish them all the best in their lives, wherever they are and whatever they do. (Maybe they’re even reading this?) I hope whatever caused them to flock to me in my time of need has been resolved. Breast cancer has taught me that life is too fragile and unpredictable to hold on to what is not good.
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