Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Bad Guy

I came back from a month-long vacation to learn that a friend of mine, a fellow breast cancer patient, had died while I was away. I had just had lunch with her a few weeks before I went away. She looked fine when I saw her. Her name was Julie. She was the woman that two other friends of mine, also breast cancer patients, were afraid to be around because I think they knew she wasn’t doing well. Her cancer had spread to major organs and it seemed like the doctors couldn’t do much more for her.

I recently saw a special TV program about people living with cancer. An oncologist was interviewed on the show about telling patients the truth about their condition and he said with an almost exasperated tone, “People die of this disease.” It seemed like he was frustrated that people didn’t want to face this truth and his saying a patient was going to die made him the bad guy.

When I heard about Julie, I thought, “Wow. People DO die of this disease.” Most don’t. But no matter what we do to fight this thing, some of us will die.

Then I look around at some of the women I’ve met since I was diagnosed. I have one friend in particular who is not doing well. I’m afraid to spend too much time with her because I don’t want to steal what little time she might have away from her family, but also because I don’t want to see somebody else die.

I wonder if other cancer patients look at me that way. Do they think, “Hmmm. Stage IV. Not much of a chance she’ll be around for the long-term. Better not invest too much time in her, since she might not be around too much longer. “

Then there’s the reaction of the other women who were with Julie during her last days. I think they were somewhat traumatized. I think when cancer patients see other cancer patients die, they come face-to-face with their own deaths. Cancer patients have death looming over them enough as it is. They don’t need to see it played out in front of them, almost waiting for their own turn.

Again, I think this whole cancer experience is much harder on the people around us than it is on us. And knowing that just adds to our own anxiety.

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