by Heather Geraghty
When I was first diagnosed with lung cancer people didn’t know how to respond to me, and they would typically say “You will be okay”, or “I’m sorry”. Those responses were acceptable, but sometimes I really just wanted someone to understand exactly what I felt and what I was going through. I recall talking about my surgery, the fear I had, the pain I was in, and the overall impact it had on my life past, present, and future. The feelings overwhelmed me at times and seemed very much out of my control.
Recently, I met someone in my hometown that has lung cancer too. We haven’t been friends for long, but I have met her a few times and call her often. We talk about the issues surrounding funding for the disease, the stigmas, and our personal stories with cancer. She is a little bit of a hard-headed person. However, she is kind-hearted, funny and absolutely irresistible. She tells it like it is, and sometimes that can be hard to hear.
When I met her I was planning a lung cancer fundraiser in my area. She called me on the phone, criticized and had suggestions for the event. Then she asked me if I’d meet her for lunch. I was nervous and excited to meet her for the first time. At this point, I hadn’t met many other survivors of lung cancer. But from the moment I met her, I knew I wanted to continue a friendship beyond my fundraiser. She was full of spirit, energy, and she unknowingly made me want to fight even harder for the future of lung cancer research, raise awareness, and work to erase the stigma of this disease.
A few days before my fundraiser, she told me that there was a possibility that her lung cancer had returned. And the night of the fundraiser she confirmed that it had. I didn’t know how to approach the situation- just like the people who didn’t know what to say to me when they had learned about my lung cancer.
I always asked, “Do you want to talk about it?” I thought this was the very least I could possibly do. When she was comfortable enough to talk about it, I let her pour everything out onto me. And I did not mind.
I spoke with her today, and I still do not know what to say. She told me today that her doctor believes she has 6 months to 1 year to live. From the time I met her to now, she appears 100% accepting of her diagnosis and prognosis. There seems to be no fighting within her, no battle or war to overcome, she has simply accepted her fate.
What am I suppose to do? What am I suppose to say? How am I supposed to act when I see her again? These are the same questions that those friends and family who maintained communication with me must have pondered about themselves. And I assume those who simply could not come to a conclusion, were those who said and did nothing during my prognosis and recovery.
Right now I feel stuck because I do not want to remain unheard. I do not want her to think I am a person she cannot count on. I know from my own lung cancer experience how it feels to not be understood. But I simply cannot place myself in her position.
I never experienced chemotherapy or radiation. I cannot relate to her experience.
And now I understand what that feels like, and it feels paralyzing.
It is not fair. It is not fair to live when someone else is dying. And it is unbelievably painful to not be able to help someone heal, which seems as uncontrollable as cancer itself. I have come to the conclusion that I need to do all that I can do, no matter how hard it is.
It would be too easy to not contact her anymore. No more phone calls, no more visits, and avoid our mutual acquaintances, but I refuse to do this. Even though I do not understand what she is going through, I will be there for her. If she wants someone to talk to I will listen, if she needs a hug I will open my arms, and if she is having a hard time adjusting to her environment I will lend a hand. That’s what I can do.
I can understand now why people choose to simply walk away. I have felt what it was like for those people who couldn’t relate to me when I was diagnosed. Those same people walked away from me when I was diagnosed because they could no longer relate to me.
But I will not do that. She is my friend, and I will not allow lung cancer to come between us.
I will not be someone who walks away.