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To My Forever Friend Who Is Facing Cancer

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My forever friend,

Things have been hard lately and you’re in a dark place. I know that because you tell me often, as often as I tell you that I’m here to lean on. I’m here to be your shout when you need to shout at everything.

We didn’t always talk every day like we do now. We had periods of time where we didn’t really know where the other was, we just knew they existed. That’s the point of forever friends though — we don’t need to always talk to know the other one is there.

I was in IKEA the night I called you, the night you told me the three words I’ve heard more in 11 years than some people hear in a lifetime. I stopped in a little kitchen setup and stared out the window. I watched a stranger in the parking lot playing with their dog in the melting snow. No cars around, no one bothering them. I started crying, then. I started crying when the realization set in that someone who had been there for my entire life, someone I loved very much, was going through one of the worst things imaginable.

“I have cancer,” you said. And my whole world hit the brakes.

It was stage one though, and we both know you’re too stubborn for something like cancer to take you away from here. You had the surgery, got the results, and we knew after that you’d be OK. On that front anyway.

Some days are harder than others. Some days you yell louder than you mean too, but I know that’s not you talking. Some days you love harder than you might want to let on, but I know that’s just what you need right then. Some days it’s like we’re kids again, and we’ve been talking every day like nothing ever changed in 21 years. Those are the better days, the ones that you seem more like you. The you I remember.

You’re still you on the bad days. You’re still the same girl I know who is full of strength and immeasurable love, even though you can’t feel it at those times. You’re still that same girl who became my friend in kindergarten. Remember how shy I was back then? It’s funny to think that over 21 years, you’ve still been there for me through everything.

Like the first time my mom got sick and was diagnosed with that c-word, the one I hate hearing and saying because I’ve heard it far too much. You were there for me back then with hugs because neither one of us really understood what that word meant or what was going to happen. You just knew I needed you.

And now again, with my mom facing that same godforsaken illness, you’ve been there for me to cry on (even if we both know I’m too stubborn to cry). You’ve checked in with me and kept me going when I’ve felt like standing up is a challenge in and of itself. Even though you know my happy is there to take care of me, you still take care of me, too. That’s a debt I can’t ever repay you for.

I didn’t really know what to do when you told me about your diagnoses. You told me when we were over at your apartment to cry and let it out… but I couldn’t then. I had to be strong for you even though I know you didn’t need it. I still had to be that rock. I didn’t cry on the way home. I didn’t curse or scream like I had leaving my parent’s house the day we found out that mom’s fight was beginning again; I felt a weird sense of calm. Like the hug we shared had 21 years of “it’s going to be OK” behind it.

It’s hard to know what to do when a loved one is hurting. It’s hard to watch someone you care about as they fight against themselves to be a better person, a better them than they are currently. It’s hard to know when you’re supposed to pick yourself up and fight beside them, and it’s harder still to know when they’re supposed to fight on their own. Some days when you want to scream “You don’t have to fight alone,” you really need to stay quiet and support from their corner like a boxing coach. Whispering what punches they should throw and when they should move under your breath, having faith they’ll know when to strike. Other days, when you think staying quiet is the right decision, you need to put them behind you. You need to stand up in front of their demons and say, “We are stronger than you. We are braver than you. We are love and we will beat you again and again and again until you leave.”

It’s hard to know what to do when a loved one has cancer. It’s hard to know when you’re supposed to help them put the pieces of the puzzle together and when you’re supposed to help them do it on their own. The only thing that you need to know, my forever friend, is this:

You are never fighting alone.

Lead photo courtesy of Pexels

Originally published: June 27, 2019
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