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When a Friend Abandoned Me After My Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis

When being diagnosed with a critical illness, there can be fear of physical losses. But we’re often not told about the biggest potential loss of all.

On Saturday night, my friend Jessica flat out said, “you need to go to emergency” when she saw my left foot dragging as I walked toward her.

I was admitted to the hospital on Sunday night with hopes of being squeezed in for an MRI the following day.

Monday morning, as the sun peeked its way through the curtains, Jessica was suddenly standing by my hospital bed. “I’m taking you down for an MRI. We need to go now.” She pointed to a small chair on wheels. I hopped in immediately. I was half asleep, surprised and grateful. A porter returned me to my bed after the procedure was finished.

Jessica was in charge of the imaging department. That morning when she arrived to work at 7 a.m., she spotted an MRI cancellation and immediately booked me in.

That afternoon, it was a relief to have my sister arrive at the hospital just in time to hear my diagnosis. A neurologist walked into the room, standing inches from the open doorway. I imagined later it was so he could make a quick exit. “You have multiple sclerosis,” he announced.

My sister and I were both in shock. We knew very little about MS. I wanted to tell Jessica right away. She had been so helpful. But she didn’t swing by at the end of her workday to check in. The next day Jessica did pop by on her break. I felt an awkwardness. It was apparent her and my sister’s energies didn’t gel.

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Several days later, once I got situated back at home, the reality of my new life situation was crushing. My biggest fears were that I might end up in a wheelchair and never be able to work again due to fatigue.

I did my best to take steps toward resuming my schedule. The most important part of my morning routine was taking my dog Jupiter for a walk. During that time I’d call Jessica for a mini chat on her way to work. It was then that Jessica shared with me something I wasn’t aware of. After my MRI, she had asked the technician what the results were. Her colleague shared with her in confidence that it was MS. Once she had this information, she was unable to come visit with me until I received my diagnosis “officially” from the neurologist.

That awkwardness turned into something more over the months that followed. I realized I hadn’t seen Jessica since I was in the hospital. She was no longer readily available to talk on the phone.

I asked, “What’s going on for you?” Jessica told me she was upset with me and would not explain why. I felt deeply hurt and wrote her a series of emails begging her to tell me what was going on.

She asked me to give her space. To stop communicating with her. I didn’t want the friendship to end but it wasn’t within my control. I felt angry and betrayed. Sadly, this loss added to the weight of my existing grief about my health and diagnosis.

If you live with a chronic illness, I imagine you might relate to this story.

According to multiplesclerosis.net, up to 71% of people diagnosed with MS experience loss of friends or family.

Like me, you are not alone.

Although I lost Jessica as a friend, it’s amazing how over time other people showed up in my life. A few have become good friends. Ironically, they have only known me as a person living with a MS.

This discovery has been both healing and life-giving.

Getty image by Antonio Guillem.