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Ghosted Means the Disappearance of Friends

Posted 8/10/2015

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  Ghosted is a term that I have not heard before, but Susan Lubars uses it eloquently in this haunting essay about being alone with fear and cancer. It means, she tells us, the disappearance of friends, people whom you expected to depend upon. This has happened to all of us. In fact, I often suggest to newly diagnosed women that that make two lists: people whom they can count on and people whom they suspect will vanish. A year from now, I say, take out the lists, and I promise there will be surprises in both directions.

  Many of us have been very hurt by this experience. To broaden it a bit, the same behavior happens after other life problems. I still ache when I remember being deserted by a very good (or so I thought) friend after my divorce. It can seem even worse with cancer because our vulnerability and our needs may be bigger. After divorce, I didn't, most of us don't, need help with transportation or meals. During cancer treatment, those practical issues can loom very large as well as the tender emotional ones, the very intense need for comfort and company.

  Here is the start of this lovely and poignant essay:

Living With Cancer: Alone and Ghosted
By Susan Gubar

When my husband, incapacitated by knee surgery, was placed in a rehabilitation facility, I lost my caregiver.
Don can no longer drive me to the cancer center or undertake the chores he used to do for both of us, and he must consider his own overriding physical problems, not mine. With the good luck of my relatively stable
physical condition, I struggle to meet our basic needs. However, an unluckier member of my support group
found herself in dire circumstances after her partner traveled overseas on a business trip.
For her, the replacement of kidney stents was supposed to be a routine procedure, but scar tissue had
blocked the ureter, necessitating the removal of the stents instead. Through two holes pierced in her back,
interventional radiologists inserted nephrostomy tubes to drain urine from the kidneys into external collection
bags. Her teenage son remained with her during the hospital stay and brought her home where she copes with pain and the complexity of dealing with the apparatus.
Both these instances of the temporary loss of a primary caretaker focus my attention on the quandaries of
widowed, divorced, separated and single patients. Because cancer regimens require taxing exertions over a long haul, people in treatment cannot survive without assistance — which may be hard to come by.
When the members of my support group and I need to lean on our children and step-children to get
groceries or sit through infusions, our dependency breeds guilt at multiplying their responsibilities and
anxieties. For as they take care of us, we realize that our job is, or was, to take care of them. The role reversal can feel so unnerving that it becomes inhibiting: At times we don’t ask for help we do need. And of course this same inhibition applies if we have to rely upon older relatives who generally have their own burdens to bear.

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