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Losing our Friends

Posted 6/29/2016

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  Whenever I speak with someone who is interested in joining one of my groups, I talk about the cost. Not in dollars; there is never a fee for my groups. The cost, however, can be very high. Especially in my wonderful group for women with Stage IV cancer, we lose our friends.

  Anyone who is diagnosed with cancer becomes a reluctant citizen of Cancer World. In her book, Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag wrote about the dual passports we hold: one for the land of the sick and one for the land of the well. We would all be glad to relinquish the first one, but there are times when we must carry it. Whether or not one joins a group, it is impossible not to meet others with cancer while going through treatment, and it is impossible to avoid such connections outside of the hospital. You begin to notice how many of us there are, and people find out. You hear from a co-worker that she had cancer five years ago, or a neighbor tells you about her sister. Almost all of us welcome these new relationships. We have something so powerful in common that other differences between us matter less. And we can support and understand each other in ways that those without cancer just can't do.

  Joining a group, however, puts you smack in the middle of this dilemma. It boils down to the old saying: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved. Does this hold for you in this situation and does it hold when one has to include the fear that comes with the death of a cancer buddy? The answer is clearly individual, and it likely changes over time. Several years ago, we lost three long-time beloved members of my metastatic group over the course of a few months. Not surprisingly, several other women needed to take a break. One has never returned to the group although the others have come back.

  For me, this question has never been difficult to answer. One of the glories of my life has been my relationships with so many fine women whom I have known through their cancer. Yes, I have wept for them and for all of us, but I never ever, not for one moment, regret knowing them. And I am forever grateful for all I have learned from them. Whenever I wonder how I will cope when my own death is on the near horizon, I think of all the guides I have had. I have watched them and listened to them and held them close in my heart, and, because of their examples, I will know what to do.

  From The Guardian: 

The bond between cancer survivors is strong. That's why it's so hard when we lose each other

I’m taking a weekend trip to Canada next month. While I’m there, I’m staying with my friend who has cancer. I was supposed to have lunch the other day with a writer I work with this week who canceled because of cancer. Last week, on my way to meeting my grandfather for dinner, I stopped en route to visit another friend with cancer.

There hasn’t suddenly been a sudden spike in US cancer cases – in fact, deaths have been dropping for decades. But fewer deaths mean more survivors – and longer survival times – and since my own cancer treatment nearly five years ago, I have found that the cancer veterans always manage to connect. I have yoga friends, writer friends and online friends who are also cancer friends. This is not by design, but it happens. And when a disproportionate number of friends and acquaintances have a life-threatening illness, the odds of avoiding grief aren’t in your favor.

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