Wednesday, April 17, 2024

When a friend reaches out after a cancer diagnosis

When a good friend reached out to tell me of her cancer diagnosis, treatment plan, and next steps, I felt like I was going to relive my cancer experience as she went through hers. It felt like a type of cancer déjà vu. I didn’t like it but knew she needed me to help her navigate those first days post diagnosis.

I heard Messenger ping as the notification came through on my cell phone. One of my high school friends was reaching out to let me know she’d received a date for surgery and her treatment plan.

Several weeks before, she’d let me know she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was sorry to hear it and gave her my sympathies but also my love and support as I assured her, I’d be with her every step of the way.

She told me what the surgeon had said she’d need not only to have her breast removed, but also some lymph nodes. My heart went out to her, though our diagnoses were slightly different, they were very much the same.

I penciled in her surgery date on my calendar and made a mental note to pray for her that day. I also wanted to check in after surgery was over, so I circled a day later that week in red. That way I’d be reminded to call and talk with her.

She told me she’d have 4-5 rounds of radiation and would then have a port installed for chemotherapy. As I read her words, they were so matter of fact, I knew, as I read between the lines, she was in shock, the same as I had been when I received my treatment plan.

She said after radiation and chemo was over, she’d start antihormone therapy. I asked which drug her doctor had recommended and she said Arimidex. That’s when the feeling of Déjà vu became even stronger. I’d been on the same one until I couldn’t tolerate it.

I did my best to give her a nutshell version of what to expect as each aspect of her treatment occurred. I knew she’d appreciate my sharing personal experiences with her.

After she thanked me and we ended our conversation, I paused to remember a certain week, almost 10 years ago, when I got the same type of news. It was an extremely hard day. The whole week I walked around in disbelief.

I didn’t have anyone to tell me what to expect, though I wished I did. It would have been so helpful to have known ahead of time what was coming my way.

I was thankful I was able to give my friend a heads up. And not only did I do that, I told her she had a right to ask for a second opinion and could refuse any part of the treatment plan she didn’t feel best suited for her.

Little things like the message I received can spark memories of my active time in cancer land. While I’d much rather forget my time there, I’m also thankful I can use those days to support and inform the newly diagnosed.

Cancer Déjà vu, I don’t know if it really exists or not. It’s just a phrase I coined to explain the way I felt when my friend reached out, but I’m sure those who’ve experienced cancer will know what I mean when I say that.

It’s hard to relive time in cancer land. The feelings of “been there, done that” aren’t ones we enjoy, but those feelings are real and may pop up when someone we love and care about goes through a similar situation.

As a good friend, I think it’s important to share openly and honestly as we remember our own journey, but not to overwhelm someone with things they don’t need to know.


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