For three years prior, I went to chemo appointments, check-ups, CT and PT scans, and surgeries with my sick family member. I know the cancer fight. I told Sarah that I would be there with her as she fought her battle. I offered to drive her for her first surgery. She broke my heart when she told me that I did not have the attitude that she needed. She felt a positive attitude would lead to a positive outcome. (It sounded like denial to me, but I didn’t say it aloud.) She told me she did not want me to go with her or discuss her cancer. I admit that I see the dark first. I think I’m a realist. However, I did not talk to her about the survival rate for her type of cancer; I told her that I knew people who had survived it.
It’s been a year now and we still don’t talk about it. We don’t talk nearly so often about anything. Any ideas on how to rebuild connections? Cancer treatment is part of her life now. It’s difficult to have conversations that don’t veer that direction. I miss our easy flow of friendship. — Missing My Friend
It sounds like you were intimately involved in the cancer treatment of your family member’s battle with the disease, and I can appreciate that you understand what it entails more than people who haven’t had that experience. But. But that doesn’t mean you know the cancer fight like someone who is fighting cancer. That’s like saying as a wannabe-ally to the Black Lives Matter movement that you know what it’s like to be Black. No amount of education, friendships, or family ties with Black people, honest conversations about their experiences, and involvement in active anti-racism measures will ever mean you know what it’s like to be Black if you aren’t Black, and the first step toward authentic allyship is to acknowledge that. To argue otherwise would be insulting and would suggest that, despite all the education and the first-hand insight you’ve been privileged to glean, you still don’t get it. Unless you have faced the fear of losing your life to cancer, you don’t get it. I think a first step to re-connecting with your friend is acknowledging that – first to yourself.
When Sarah was diagnosed with cancer, you say that you were “devastated” and she was “terrified.” It’s important to think about the difference in those sentiments. “Terror” is something that puts you on the defense. It activates a fight response. To beat terror, you have to pull in all your reserves – including positive thinking – and block out all the distraction. In “being a realist,” you signaled to Sarah that YOU were a distraction if one of the tools she’s using is positivity. Saying you know people who have survived her type of cancer isn’t being positive; Saying you know SHE is going to beat the cancer is. You can call it denial or tell yourself it isn’t helpful not to face the reality of the situation, but Sarah very clearly told you what she needs in her cancer fight and it isn’t your job to tell her she’s wrong.
So… how can you reconnect with Sarah? Well, for starters, you can acknowledge that she very likely doesn’t have the energy or time to meet YOUR needs right now. She’s busy fighting cancer. Maintaining an easy flow of friendship isn’t her priority right now. She cannot be what you need at the moment. But you can be more of what SHE needs. You can — and should — prioritize those needs above your own right now. A good start would be acknowledging that you don’t know what she’s going through, that you’re sorry if you ever implied that you did, and that what you do know about the fight against cancer is how important inner strength and stamina are and that you know Sarah has those things in spades. You can tell her how impressed you are by her and tell her that while you respect her wishes to keep her cancer fight and your friendship separate, if she were willing to let you bridge the two, you would be willing to do whatever she needs for that to happen, including – and especially – being a cheerleader. And if she decides that there is not a place for you on her cancer team, you have to respect that and continue letting her show you whatever space might be available for you in her life right now while you lean into other friendships and relationships to meet your needs.
Vintage DW (this post was originally published February 15, 2011)
I thought that if it looked like I had a boyfriend, it would seem like he didn’t mean that much to me. I wanted to hurt him, but now I feel even worse. I am totally ashamed that I would do something so petty and juvenile. How do I fix this situation? Should I just leave my ex alone and move on? Should I admit what I did and apologize? I’m really not a crazy person; I was just hurt, and now I really regret behaving like a twelve-year-old! — Regretting Fake Facebook Status
You can read my response here.