Loving People in My Life Could Not Handle My Daughter’s Cancer


Despite how caring they may be, certain people in our life had a difficult time being there for the realities of my daughter’s cancer experience.

When I was supporting my daughter Adrienne through breast cancer treatment, I was with her every step of the way. I slept in the living room of her one-bedroom apartment on an air mattress for almost a year so that I could be what she needed me to be.

I was very lucky that Adrienne and I went into the whole experience on high ground so the hurdles we overcame together were not related to past woes. A lot of people expressed their admiration for the choice I made, to put my life on hold, and my standard response has always been that I needed to be there like I need air to breathe. It’s just how I’m built.

But not everyone is built that way.

I see many patients with cancer express disappointment at friends and loved ones who drop off the face of the earth when they hear about the diagnosis. There were a few of those in Adrienne’s life and I was there to bear witness to how sad it can be. It can feel like abandonment in a time of need, especially when you looked to people to be in your corner and they disappear like dust in the wind.

I saw for myself how much it can contribute to the loneliness and isolation cancer can bring, even more so when you see your friends moving forward with their lives when yours is stuck in treatment cycles.

But here’s the thing: just because someone loves you, that doesn’t mean that they have the capacity to provide the support you need.

I have someone in my life who simply could not manage the distress of what Adrienne was going through, so he was unable to step into a direct support role. He still cannot read any of the material I have written about the experience because of the emotional pain it causes him.

He is one of the most caring, compassionate people I know, but when it came to my child, someone he loves deeply, her experiencing cancer diagnosis and treatment was beyond his ability to process. I lived the helplessness of not being able to make it go away, and I know how difficult that made my road. For some, that helplessness can be crippling, and in order to function they simply need to step away.

It’s important for me to separate the person who has been there for me in every other phase of life and the one who couldn’t be there for me for just this one. I know it was a huge one, but there have been other huge ones during which he was my rock. Needing to create boundaries around this experience doesn’t make him less any more than my being able to become the caregiver in the intensive way I did makes me more. It’s simply one of those things that “it what it is.”

Considering that cancer is a never-ending story, if I chose to cut people out who couldn’t wrap their heads around what Adrienne went through, what I was an intimate witness to, survivorship would be a much lonelier place than it already is. There are those in my circle who question why I still write about what happened, why it is that I cannot just let it go, and I get that. If I had never been cast in the role of cancer caregiver, I wouldn’t get it either.

Recently I’ve sensed that that the role I play has shifted from caregiver to educator and advocate so that more people will be aware and prepared for what life becomes when you hear the words, “It’s cancer.” Educating and advocating should not be a burden my child has to carry along with the lifetime of impact cancer has had on her body and mind. I am grateful that it is something I can do for her to balance the multitude of things I couldn’t.

Like making it all go away.

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