Allowing Your Heart to Break as a Cancer Survivor

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Experiencing losing a friend to cancer in the cancer community is never easy, but it’s OK to allow your heart to break.

Illustration of a man with gray hair wearing a blue polo shirt.

I have learned over the past few years since surviving colorectal cancer that it is OK to allow your heart to break. I used to fear the emotional heartache before cancer, but now I expect it, especially in the cancer community. Unfortunately, it’s become one of the new norms in my relationships over the years because of this disease.

A friend of mine in my cancer community died a few days ago at such a young age. Although we met through social media, I did get the great opportunity to meet him in person last year at a gathering of male cancer survivors and patients at a retreat. I do consider that a complete blessing to have known him, even though my heart has broken over this unthinkable death. His family has been shattered and his young son no longer has a father. I can’t even imagine the heartbreak his wife must be feeling at this time. I know he held all those relationships close till the very end.

I spent a few days before his passing pre-grieving because I knew it was only a matter of days before his passing. It's a technique that I have unfortunately gotten used to as I face so many deaths of my friends in the cancer community. It's like when I was a kid, and I would wait for a bully on the playground to hit me. You learn to brace yourself before that happens because you know it is coming. Then, you get the breath knocked out of you and find yourself on the ground. You don’t get up in fear of being hit again and wait to be rescued by a teacher on that day. I think that describes death and cancer in many ways. Cancer being the bully and the relationships I have built over the years to be the one to rescue me.

If I have learned anything as a cancer survivor, I learned that you can’t go through it alone. You need people in your life who can relate to this type of pain. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I very rarely told another person I loved them. Today, I end most of my conversations on a daily basis in that way because we honestly don’t know how much time we may have together. I have many friends who can be one bad set of scans away or a failed last line of treatment away from death. It’s much like my young friend whose death I mentioned earlier because it happens way too often.

Many people often ask me how I get through times like these because the loss can be so great within the cancer community. The simple answer is, I choose to because I find it's another act of love. I do find several ways to get through these moments, although you never really get over anyone's death. I do find that talking with others can help and, at times, seeking the support of a grief counselor. I find writing in a blog like this about a person’s passing can be very therapeutic and helpful for me. I know the men in my cancer support group will meet together over a Zoom call just to remember that person’s life. We shared laughter and would find ourselves in tears remembering that person with great love and admiration.

Unfortunately, grieving has become something I have had to face too often as a cancer survivor, but I won’t let it stop me from offering the support I give every day in the cancer community. It's very true that love conquers all, even in facing death of a friend in the cancer space. It’s a heartache that I have learned to accept but it's never easy and you can’t get through it alone.

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